Most Minnesotans approve of the job Gov. Tim Pawlenty is doing -- and most won't be influenced one way or another in their presidential voting if he ends up as John McCain's running mate.
A new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll found that 54 percent of adults in the state approve of the Republican Pawlenty's job performance, while 37 percent disapprove.
His approval rating remains above the 50-percent level, which is considered the danger threshold for a politician. And it's in the same general range where Minnesotans have graded Pawlenty since he began his first term in 2003.
But it represents a dip from the fall, when 59 percent of Minnesotans approved of his job performance. And his current 37 percent disapproval rating is the highest ever.
Respondents who say they're fans of Pawlenty's job performance stressed his conservative steadiness and nonconfrontational style.
"He seems to be trying to stabilize the government politically between both parties," said Pam Severson, 36, a health care worker from Rochester. "He's not going with what's just going to be popular. And he's made it clear the spending has to stop."
Pat Middendorf, 43, a dairy farmer from Grey Eagle, called Pawlenty "just a down-to-earth person, a kind of common man who's just doing his job without a lot of hubba-hubba stuff."
But Georgiana Allan, 56, an architect from Afton, looks at Pawlenty "and I really don't see anything. He speaks well, has a young face, but I don't think he has contributed anything."
The poll, which interviewed 1,203 adult Minnesotans, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Little November effect
The poll was conducted last week as Pawlenty grappled with legislators over the final resolution to the 2008 session. It also was a time when he was, again, repeatedly mentioned as having a prominent spot on the short list of possible McCain running mates.
The poll asked Minnesotans what effect it would have on their presidential pick in November if McCain picks Pawlenty.
Nearly two-thirds said it would make no difference at all, while 16 percent said it would make them more likely to vote Republican and 20 percent said it would make them less likely to mark their ballot for McCain.
The apparent indifference prevailed across most demographic categories -- except party affiliation. Among self-described Republicans, 30 percent said a Pawlenty pick would make them more likely to vote for the GOP ticket; among Democrats, 31 percent said it would make them less likely.
"I'm really happy with Pawlenty, and I think he'd do the country a lot of good if he was on the ticket," said Danny Swearengin, a small-business owner from Milaca. "He seems to have the public in mind, not lining his own pockets. I'm definitely voting McCain, and Pawlenty'd give me another reason to."
Monica Cogan, 33, a homemaker from White Bear Lake, likes the way Pawlenty has handled himself as governor but said his presence on the ticket wouldn't make her more likely to vote for McCain, which she plans to do anyway.
"I just don't know if he'd make that much difference," she said. "He does hold a lot of the same values I do, but my vote goes to who's on the top of the ticket."
Larry Brandberg, a retired research scientist from Edina and self-described independent voter, has little taste for Pawlenty's work as governor -- and even less for the prospect of him running for vice president.
"I've never been able to warm up to the guy -- it's as if he doesn't have much character," Brandberg, 65, said. "It'd be nice to get rid of the guy, but that'd leave us with [Lt. Gov. Carol] Molnau. You'd think McCain could find someone better. I'd never vote for him."
The poll found that if Pawlenty were chosen by McCain and accepted the offer, he probably wouldn't face a backlash from his Minnesota constituents.
Fifty-four percent said it would be all right for Pawlenty to join the ticket with McCain, while 31 percent said he should turn down the offer and finish his term as governor.
For his part, Pawlenty has repeatedly said he's focusing on his current job -- not on the vice presidency.
Asked about the poll results, his political spokeswoman, Trisha Hamm, replied in an e-mail: "Governor Pawlenty has been focused on concluding the legislative session and on his job as governor. He is not worried about speculation on other matters."
Setting no records
Across gender, geography, education and income, Pawlenty's overall popularity has few glaring strengths or weaknesses. His approval ratings among all groups generally match his overall results.
Only among those making less than $30,000 a year and Democrats does his approval rating dip substantially; conversely, among Republicans, it tops out at 82 percent.
Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the results demonstrate that "Minnesotans appreciate Governor Pawlenty holding the line on taxes and reforming government to focus on results."
Pawlenty's job approval numbers are stronger than those of Norm Coleman, the state's only other Republican elected statewide.
But Pawlenty's predecessors enjoyed approval ratings that he has never matched. DFLer Rudy Perpich's approval reached a high of 72 percent in August 1984, and Republican Arne Carlson's high point was 71 percent in February 1998. Jesse Ventura of the Independence Party matched Carlson's peak in August 2000 and January 2001.
Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184