Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty could have passed for a professor – but not a candidate -- Monday at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, in his first major Minnesota speaking appearance since he ended his presidential bid nine months ago.
Before an audience of friends, fans, a few former political foes and journalists, Pawlenty demonstrated that he hasn’t lost his gift for cogent public policy analysis nor his ardor for political strategy.
His discussion of the finer points of the TARP bank bailout and the Dodd-Frank regulatory regime enacted in its wake was worthy of graduate-level credit. (Humphrey School profs likely would have been less impressed with his dismissal of scientific evidence about human-made climate change.)
But the passion of a contender for political office was lacking in Pawlenty's delivery. He sounded sincere, and only a little wistful, when he said he isn't sure whether there is another role ahead for him in elective office.
Though he was governor for eight years, Pawlenty also steered clear of Minnesota-specific topics -- even the sort of things Minnesotans might expect to hear from, say, a future U.S. Senate candidate.
For example, his call for more performance standards and accountability by teachers would have been a natural lead-in to criticism of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's veto two weeks ago of a bill that would have required that performance as well as seniority be judged when teachers are laid off. But Pawlenty stopped short of that critique.
With minor adaptations, Pawlenty could take Monday's speech on the road as a surrogate for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. In fact, he likely already has.
But this speech won't reconnect him with his Minnesota political base. In fact, it may have the opposite effect.