For Pawlenty, after the pick, another day at fair

The governor accepted the choice philosophically, but supporters were more emotional.

By the time his motorcade left the governor's residence before 9 a.m. Friday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty had already been told by John McCain that he was not the Arizona senator's choice for a running mate.

But many in a large crowd at the Minnesota State Fair, which greeted Pawlenty with loud applause when he arrived for his weekly radio show, were still wishing it might happen.

As she waited for the governor to arrive, Phyllis Jenneke of Waconia said, "I'm just hoping he doesn't walk through that door," preferring that he be on his way to Ohio to join McCain's ticket.

Wearing a striped polo shirt and khaki slacks, a relaxed-looking Pawlenty moved through the crowd of several hundred smiling fairgoers before sitting down for his hourlong show. Outwardly, he showed little disappointment. As a loudspeaker boomed a newscast announcing that McCain had selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Pawlenty reached over a railing to shake hands and sign autographs.

"I got word of it, the actual choice, this morning," said Pawlenty, facing a swarm of reporters and photographers after the show. "I did talk to Sen. McCain by phone early this morning. It was a wonderful conversation. I congratulated him on the pick and told him I'm very excited about the pick."

Voices of support

But if Pawlenty didn't seem bothered by the choice, his GOP friends didn't try to hide their disappointment.

"I think Sarah Palin is a bold choice and I'm going to work hard for the ticket, but I have to be candid. I have no doubt that the best choice would have been Tim Pawlenty," said U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman.

Similarly, state House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said: "I just have to be frank and honest; I would have loved to have seen him get the nod. I think he would have been absolutely tremendous."

State Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, expressed admiration for the governor in a different way: "Selfishly, I'm happy to have Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota for as long as we can keep him. I'm certain he'll be on the short list [for McCain administration positions]."

Even state Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, a favorite Pawlenty nemesis, expressed sympathy -- sort of.

"I know the governor must be very disappointed. He's worked very hard in the last year to attain the vice presidency," Pogemiller said. "As someone who also appointed a strong female as his running mate, I'm sure he understands the choice that Senator McCain made."

'I slept great'

During the radio show, Pawlenty and co-host Brian McClung, his communications director, tried to present a business-as-usual approach, spending their time discussing swine judging and the carnies who work at the fair.

"How did you sleep last night?" a man asked Pawlenty during the show. "I slept great," he replied.

Pawlenty told reporters he had not discussed a possible Cabinet position in a McCain administration, but he didn't answer when asked whether he was interested. On whether he will run for another term in 2010, Pawlenty said he would make a decision early next year.

"I started with this effort because I believe strongly and firmly in Senator McCain," said Pawlenty, who described Palin as a reformer whose policies "really do speak to Sam's Club Republicans," a group the governor has championed as the ordinary people the party should try to represent.

State Republican Party chairman Ron Carey, standing nearby, said he had trouble hiding his disappointment.

"I went to bed certainly optimistic," he said of the speculation that built nationally that Pawlenty had been chosen.

That conjecture had been stoked when Pawlenty and Republican officials canceled his public events Thursday afternoon in Denver, where the Democratic National Convention was concluding. The governor, saying little, arrived back in Minnesota on Thursday afternoon and ducked in and out of the governor's residence that night as reporters yelled questions at him from outside the fence.

To political experts, Pawlenty's shortcomings -- his lack of foreign policy experience, for example -- seemed to pale beside those of Palin, who is less experienced and virtually unknown nationally. But in the end Pawlenty couldn't compete with the one ingredient McCain seemed to want: the first woman on a GOP presidential ticket and someone who could reach out to disaffected Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters.

DFL state party chair Brian Melendez pounced on the choice, calling Palin's selection "a slap in the face to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who campaigned at McCain's side even in McCain's darkest hours a year ago, when even McCain's staff deserted him."

At least one observer saw a silver lining for the Republican governor.

"It's really probably the best move for his career," said Jerome Bette, a retired St. Paul resident on his way Friday to happy hour on W. 7th Street, in the shadow of the Xcel Energy Center. "I'm of the opinion that McCain is going to go down, and Pawlenty will still have a lot of support to run for whatever he wants in 2010 and '12."

Staff writer Pat Doyle contributed to this report. mkaszuba@startribune.com • 612-673-4388 kduchschere@startribune.com • 612-673-4455

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