(Charlie Neibergall, AP )
Reporting from Ames, Iowa — Tim Pawlenty took some veiled swipes Wednesday at his GOP competitors for the presidential nomination, arguing that Iowa voters should examine the field’s accomplishments, not just their rhetoric, and that his tenure as Minnesota’s governor proved his mettle.
“Candidates are going to come through Iowa and they are going to say many of the same things,” he said, speaking at a fundraiser for the Story County GOP at Hickory’s Hall restaurant. Republican candidates would call for cutting spending, reducing taxes, market-based reform of healthcare, fixing public pensions and the like, he said.
“So the interesting question I think for you, the Iowa Republicans and conservatives, is not are the candidates saying many or all of the same things. I think the question for you is have they actually done it.” he said. “Is this a person who has the leadership and experience of being a CEO of a large public enterprise in a tough environment in a difficult circumstance, and not only given speeches and offering failed amendments, but have they led it to conclusions that get results?”
It’s unclear what failed amendment Pawlenty was referring to, but after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that gay couples could marry, Michele Bachmann, then a Minnesota statehouse legislator, proposed a state constitutional amendment that would limit marriage to one man and one woman. The measure failed.
Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, recently entered the GOP presidential contest and has soared past Pawlenty to be considered a front-runner in Iowa. When asked if he was specifically referring to Bachmann, Pawlenty said his comments were about the strengths that he brings to the race.
Pawlenty pointed to his years of experience as the governor of Minnesota, a Democratic-leaning state, as proof of his wherewithal, and said he did healthcare reform “the right way,” without a mandate. Many GOP voters are infuriated by the federal mandate that most individuals purchase healthcare insurance in President Obama’s healthcare plan, which many see as modeled on a state plan by GOP presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Pawlenty also urged voters to consider whether a candidate is electable in the general election.
“You want to make sure the person Iowa puts forward in that race is not just someone who is interesting at that moment, but someone who can become the nominee and can beat Barack Obama,” he said.
Pawlenty, who was on the first day of a three-day swing through Iowa, is regarded as having the most sophisticated ground game in the state and has been campaigning hard here for several months. A strong showing is critical in the upcoming straw poll in Ames, but he has failed to gain traction in preference polls. He is advertising on television and sending mailers to GOP households urging their support in the Straw Poll.
About 100 voters attended the fundraiser at Hickory’s Hall, a renowned local barbecue, where they dined on brisket sandwiches, baked beans and potato salad.
While Pawlenty didn’t mention his GOP rivals by name, he repeatedly and forcefully called out Obama, saying the president has failed to provide solutions to vital issues, such as Social Security and Medicare.
“When we elect somebody president who’s a former community organizer, who was in the Senate just long enough to have a cup of coffee and never ran anything, never did anything and we put him in the Oval Office and wonder why it’s not working – it’s not working because he duped the country into thinking he’s a reasonable candidate,” Pawlenty said. “Turns out he’s a dangerous liberal who has no real experience running anything. No mystery why it isn’t working, he doesn’t have a clue.”
After speaking for nearly an hour, Pawlenty, speaking with reporters outside, distanced himself from comments made by one of his campaign co-chairmen. Vin Weber, speaking to the Hill, said “a little sex appeal” is among Bachmann’s strengths. (Weber has since apologized).
“I don’t believe that he or anyone else should use a reference to somebody’s sex appeal to judge their fitness for office,” Pawlenty said.
He also had a little fun, speaking with reporters from a pop and politics blog about his fondness for Lady Gaga. First he asked them which Gaga songs were among their favorites, and then he listed “Bad Romance” and “Born This Way” as his.
He described Gaga as “interesting, talented, kinda weird.” Noting how the pop star sang “Born This Way” a capella in an HBO special, Pawlenty noted, “She can sing.”