After making a hasty exit from the presidential race last month, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty resurfaced Tuesday -- on a comedy show.
Pawlenty gave his first interview since dropping his White House bid to comedian Stephen Colbert, who made Pawlenty a frequent butt of jokes during the campaign. The Minnesota Republican appeared to be in good spirits for the interview on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," taking jokes about his campaign's demise in stride and making a few of his own.
"It's taking on more and more of a reality TV component," Pawlenty said of the race. "Did you think you should learn to juggle?" Colbert asked.
"I thought about shooting sparks out of my butt," Pawlenty responded.
The former governor faces an uncertain future in politics. He's been preparing for a presidential run since 2008, when he was nearly chosen as U.S. Sen. John McCain's running mate, and campaigned full time once his second term as governor ended in 2010.
Already Pawlenty has nixed a Senate run in 2012 against Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, a popular incumbent. He has said won't "consider" being tapped for the vice presidential slot again. On the distant horizon is Minnesota's 2014 U.S. Senate race against Al Franken, who eked out a razor-thin recount win in 2008.
Pawlenty told the Star Tribune after the show Tuesday that he remains undecided about his future, whether he winds up in the private sector or public sector. "I genuinely don't know what I'm going to do," Pawlenty said.
Heather LaMarre, a communications professor at the University of Minnesota specializing in political media, called Pawlenty's return to television via Comedy Central "an opportunity for him really to reset as a likable, fun-loving guy who doesn't take himself too seriously, who understands that maybe he made some mistakes. It takes the spotlight off of what went wrong and on what's good with him."
But Pawlenty will hit more than the laugh circuit this week. On Wednesday, he will appear on MSNBC and Fox News. Pawlenty has declined all sit-down interview requests from Minnesota news outlets since his abrupt pullout on Aug. 14, following a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa straw poll.
Pawlenty fodder for Colbert
Alex Conant, an adviser and former Pawlenty spokesman, said "The Colbert Report" had hoped to have the former governor appear during the campaign, but the timing never worked out. After Pawlenty's campaign ended, the show's producers reached out once again, and Pawlenty agreed.
Colbert, who has built his comedic reputation by satirizing blowhard conservative commentators, has featured Pawlenty in seven sketches since March. He had mercilessly mocked the former Minnesota governor for everything from his "boring" reputation to his Lady Gaga quotes to his book cover photo, which Colbert compared to the plaid-shirted lumberjack on the Brawny paper-towel rolls.
When Colbert asked Pawlenty why he quit, the Minnesota Republican said simply he was "out of money."
Plus, Pawlenty added, finishing behind U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at the straw poll "was enough for any one person." Pawlenty's poll support remained mired in single digits throughout the campaign.
"I ran on a record of results and success, and that didn't seem to resonate," Pawlenty said to laughs from the crowd.
Colbert brought up Bachmann and asked if the problem was people were "over-Minnesotaned?"
"You cannot be over-Minnesotaned," Pawlenty responded.
Bachmann also was fodder for Colbert in the show's first segment, as he poked fun at her comment about God and natural disasters last month. "Yes, hurricanes have that hole in the middle because they're God's megaphone," Colbert said.
Pawlenty's New York TV swing signals that he intends to remain a figure in the national political landscape. Conant said Pawlenty is likely to make an endorsement in the Republican presidential primary, although he didn't say when.
Colbert asked Pawlenty to make an endorsement.
"You," Pawlenty responded.
When Colbert said he wasn't running, Pawlenty kept pushing to the delight of the crowd, although like some of his other comments the full exchange didn't make the show's final cut.
"Do it," Pawlenty told Colbert. "Don't be a weenie."
Jeremy Herb • 202-408-2723 Twitter: @StribHerb