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Pawlenty seeks to capture some Huckabee magic

July 05, 2011|By James Oliphant
(Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images )

Tim Pawlenty's lookin' for some Huck Luck.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mike Huckabee’s daughter and an architect of the former Arkansas governor’s shocking win in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, is joining Pawlenty’s campaign as a strategist.

Sanders, who has always been her father’s closest political adviser, fits with Pawlenty’s current all-Iowa, all-the-time strategy. Mike Huckabee won Iowa by mounting a strong retail campaign, scoring well with Christian conservatives, and branding himself a straight-talking populist.

Pawlenty’s campaign said she will focus her efforts on the Iowa Straw Poll in August, viewed as a looming test of Pawlenty’s viability, and in building a greater grassroots operation in the state.

“Sarah is a results-oriented person with a great track record in Iowa and around the country,” Pawlenty said in a statement. “We are very excited Sarah is joining our team just as we are hitting our stride in Iowa.”

"It’s clear to me that Gov. Pawlenty has what it takes to unite the party, unite the country and beat President Obama,” said Sanders, who also masterminded former Rep. John Boozman's win over incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas last November.

While Pawlenty says he is hitting his "stride" in Iowa, a recent Des Moines Register poll disagreed, showing the candidate, who was among the first to launch a presidential campaign this year, trailing front-running Mitt Romney by 17 points. Fittingly, his campaign compared him to Huckabee, who was similarly behind in 2007.

Pawlenty is struggling with the aftereffects of what many viewed as an early defining moment: his failure to more aggressively challenge Romney on the Massachusetts healthcare program at last month’s New Hampshire debate. His campaign reported raising just $4.2 million during the second quarter -- a disappointing number. He was outdone by libertarian Ron Paul.

In the meantime, he’s seen fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann, at least for the moment, position herself as the leading alternative to Romney, a role Pawlenty had cast for himself.

It’s left Pawlenty searching for a way to regain momentum. This week, he’s making an appeal to fiscal conservatives and "tea party" activists by applauding his home state’s government shutdown.

In a new ad airing in Iowa, Pawlenty points to his role in a 2005 confrontation that shut down state government while he was chief executive.  

“Governor Tim Pawlenty refused to cave in to government unions,” the announcer in the ad states. “Minnesota government shut down. Why? Because Tim Pawlenty would not accept Democrats' massive tax-and-spending demands."

That shutdown lasted nine days, and last week, Pawlenty told reporters that he wishes it would have lasted longer, because he could have leveraged the situation to help his legislative agenda. And he urged the GOP-controlled state Legislature to stick to its guns.

"There's going to be a variety of near-term impacts, but the longer-term goal is what is most important here," Pawlenty said.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is trying to close a $5-billion gap in the budget -- for which Pawlenty has seen some blame -- and wants to raise revenues. In a position similar to that taken by Republicans on Capitol Hill, their Minnesota brethren will talk only about cuts, not revenue-enhancers. About 40,000 state employees received layoff notices Friday.

But it was Pawlenty’s willingness to accept a revenue item, a fee on cigarettes, termed a “health impact fee” that helped resolve the stalemate in 2005. He called it a “user fee,” not a tax. It earned him the wrath of anti-tax groups such as Americans for Tax Reform.

To bring things full circle, Mike Huckabee was similarly ripped while governor of Arkansas for supporting a nursing home tax, which he also labeled a fee.

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