Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty talked up Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's chances in the emerging Republican presidential race, saying his fellow Midwesterner is best situated to challenge former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
"Jeb clearly is the establishment candidate, and he's raised a boatload of money," Pawlenty said Friday at the University of Minnesota. But in a national GOP fragmented between what's left of the establishment, neoconservatives, libertarians, tea partiers, social conservatives and others, Pawlenty said Walker is best situated to straddle that factionalization.
"Scott is from a Midwestern state, but he's got a national profile and national fundraising capabilities," Pawlenty said, norting Walker's successful efforts to weaken labor union power in Wisconsin.
Drawing parallels between their experiences, Palenty said Walker's success in a Democratic-leaning state has taught him how to speak to moderate voters.
"If you're governing in MInnesota or Wisconsin, there's a common sense craft in how you make common sense arguments using conservative principles," Pawlenty said. "Scott's conservative, but he doesn't scare the establishment."
Now working as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington-based lobbying group for banks, Pawlenty said he's not ready to endorse a GOP candidate but did not rule out doing so. He did have scathing comments for one prominent Republican, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
In 2008, Pawlenty and Palin were both finalists to be running mate to Sen. John McCain; Palin won out. At the time, Pawlenty said, he didn't know what to make of her. He later made up his mind.
"One of the criteria is, you have to be able to do the job" of president, Pawlenty said. "You have to be qualified and prepared. I don't think that Gov. Palin would be viewed by the country or should be viewed by the country as a wise selection to be president."
Pawlenty's appearance at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs was mostly a Q-and-A session with former state House Speaker Steve Sviggum, who now teaches there. Sviggum and Pawlenty were close allies in the late '90s and early '00s, when Sviggum led the House and Pawlenty was his deputy.
Elected governor in 2002, Pawlenty narrowly won a second term in 2006 -- still the last time a Republican has won a statewide race in Minnesota. Pawlenty said he thinks Minnesota has shifted a little to the left since then, and he said the state Republican Party must "market itself better" to new groups of voters.
Pawlenty talked little about his failed 2012 bid for president, where he flamed out early in a crowded field of Republican contenders. "Just about everything we did" was a mistake, he said, particularly the decision to spend limited campaign resources on winning a straw poll of Iowa caucus voters.
While repeatedly describing himself as "politically retired," Pawlenty weighed in on a number of state and national issues. He spoke most about education policy, a favorite issue during his time as governor.
The closest Pawlenty came to commenting on a current issue before the Legislature was to voice support for changing Minnesota's seniority-based system for hiring and firing teachers. A bill to scrap that system recently passed the state House, but faces a skeptical audience with Pawlenty's DFL successor, Gov. Mark Dayton.
Still, Pawlenty declined to criticize Dayton.
"I try not to comment on the current governor because it always annoyed me when former governors weighed in," Pawlenty said. "It's like, shut the hell up."
Like a good politician, Pawlenty refused to completely rule out a future run for office, but tried to discourage speculation that he might. Dayton is not running again in 2018, leaving an opening in Pawlenty's old job, and both of Minnesota's U.S. Senate seats are currently held by Democrats.
"I had a full run at it," Pawlenty said. But noting he's still a relatively young 54, he added: "I don't ultimately know what the future holds."
A poll of registered Iowa Republicans released Tuesday shows that Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential candidate now mulling another run in 2016, is currently leading a large field of prospective challengers. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came in third, behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The nation-leading Iowa caucus is still about a year off, but prospective candidates have already started to openly discuss the race. The Washington Post reported on Monday that Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, is "almost certain" to run again, and has been discussing it with a number of close allies including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The poll by Gravis Marketing, a Florida-based pollster, found Romney leading a field of eight other potential candidates with the support of 21 percent of respondents. "Romney's name recognition and the loyalty Republicans have for their last nominee give him an opportunity that no one else has," said Doug Kaplan, the manager partner of Gravis Marketing.
Bush, the brother and son of the two former President Bushes, was next with 14 percent. Walker, recently re-elected to a second term as Wisconsin's governor despite a divisive first term that saw a failed recount attempt, was in third place with 10 percent. A number of additional potential candidates scored support below 10 percent. In order, they were: Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. Another 18 percent of poll respondents were undecided.
Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, said Monday he would not run in 2016. The poll of 404 registered Iowa Republicans was taken Jan. 5-7.
The Iowa caucuses are tentatively scheduled for Jan. 18, 2016, though that date is not final. In 2012, Romney finished a close second in Iowa to former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton is seen as the prohibitive frontrunner. She has not made her candidacy official but is widely expected to announce this spring that she's running.
Clinton lost the 2008 Iowa caucus to then-Sen. Barack Obama, delivering an ultimately fatal blow to her candidacy.
Allison Sherry and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
WASHINGTON -- Former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty said early Wednesday on MSNBC's Morning Joe that Republicans should back a minimum wage increase.
"If you're going to talk the talk about being for the middle class and the working person, if we have a minimum wage, it should be reasonably adjusted from time to time," the former presidential contender said on the morning cable program. "There are some basic things we should be for."
Pawlenty's comments come ahead of a Senate vote later today on a proposal supported by President Obama to boost the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 in three steps, concluding in 2016. The measure is supported by DFL Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, both of whom have made floor speeches in the last two days in support.
Obama will also make remarks on the minimum wage later today. The vote is not likely to be taken up by the GOP-controlled House. Neither GOP Reps. John Kline or Erik Paulsen's office responded to questions on the wage hike Wednesday.
As Democrats were trumpeting Pawlenty's comments, the former governor made clear that his support for a minimum wage increase does not mean he backed the $10.10 an hour plan.
"The proposal being presented by the Senate majority goes too far and too fast,” Pawlenty said in an email to Politico.
Pawlenty, who is now the CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, has a significant history with minimum wage increase proposals.
As governor back in 2005, Pawlenty signed a Minnesota minimum wage hike. That measure lifted the state's wage floor from $5.15 an hour, where it had stagnated since 1997, to $6.15 an hour for large employers.
At the time, the hike had bipartisan support and primarily Republican opposition. Among the Republicans who voted against it -- then state Rep. Paulsen, who is now in the U.S. House.
In subsequent years, Pawlenty vetoed legislators' attempt to raise the state's minimum so it remained at $6.15 an hour, even as the federal minimum went up to $7.25 an hour. Since then, Minnesota has had one of the lowest minimum wages in the country.
But this year, the DFL-controlled Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton set out to change that.
After considerable debate, they approved a minimum wage increase. Earlier this month, Dayton signed into law an measure to raise the state's minimum to $9.50 an hour by 2016. Future increases would be tied to inflation, meaning the state's lowest wage workers would continue to get paycheck boosts after 2016 except in times of significant economic downturns.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Franken said the oft-repeated argument among Republicans that the minimum wage doesn't help businesses isn't true.
"People who earn minimum wage spend the money they're earning," he said. "Workers who are better paid are better workers and are less likely to quit ... It helps business."
On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal limits on how much an individual can give to campaigns in aggregate, which could allow high dollar donors to spread their largess to a wider swath of political hopefuls and parties.
Unlike the federal system, which essentially limited how many donations in total a donor could give, Minnesota law does not place restrictions on the number of campaigns to which a high-dollar donor can contribute.
Current state law allows donors to give massive amounts to parties or PACs and allows donors to spread their donations to as many candidates or party committees as they wish.
"We’ve never limited the amount that an individual donor can give to a whole group of candidates," said Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the Minnesota campaign finance board. "We don’t limit at all the amount of money that an individual can give to a party."
Minnesota does place limits on how much candidates can accept from certain types of donors but Goldsmith said those restrictions were not considered by the court.
Other states, including Wisconsin, do have laws to limit the aggregate donations a contributor can spend in an election cycle, according to the National Institute of Money in State Politics. Those nine states' laws may be directly impacted by the federal decision.
The Supreme Court did not overturn the concept of limiting what a campaign can accept from a donor. Currently, donors are limited to giving $5,200 per candidate per election cycle to federal candidates. Minnesota law puts similar restrictions on what an individual can give to a single candidate.
The court's decision will have a much more far reaching impact on federal campaigns and parties, including those from Minnesota.
DFL chair Ken Martin said the ruling allows parties to tap donors for funds, even if those donors had already given to multiple other parties or candidates.
"It has a big impact on state parties," said Martin.
Currently, donors are limited to giving $123,200 for 2013 and 2014 in total to all federal campaigns. That limit made federal cash difficult to raise, Martin said. The Minnesota parties were not limited to what they could raise from individuals in their state committees.
After the decision, Minnesota parties will be able to raise more federal money -- up to $10,000 per individual -- from donors whether or not those individuals had already given to many other federal committees.
"That is hugely helpful to state parties," Martin said. He said the lifting of the overall cap will mean that parties can be more involved in helping federal candidates "up and down the ballot here in Minnesota."
Minnesota Republican Party chair Keith Downey said the decision may mean candidates and parties will be able to raise more.
"It will serve to direct campaign spending toward those who are closest to the public and most publicly accountable for their campaign activities. It also underscores the importance of both transparency and the protection of political speech, which are so important in our political process," Downey said.
Several donors with Minnesota ties have contributed enough in 2013 that they could have bumped up against the limit the court struck down.
According to a Star Tribune analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics, John Grundhofer, former chairman of U.S. Bancorps, donated $142,200 through the end of last year and Patricia Grundhofer, whose is listed on federal documents as the director of the John F. Grundhofer Charitable Foundation, donated $125,600. They gave primarily to non-Minnesota Republican committees.
Stanley Hubbard, head of Hubbard Broadcasting and a a frequent donor to state as well as federal causes, gave nearly $100,000 to federal committees last year alone. He said that every election cycle he gets many calls soliciting donations and he has to refuse them because he is maxed out.
Hubbard has a simple prediction for what will happen now that the court rejected the overall limits: "They are going to start calling."
Star Tribune data editor Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.
Vice President Joe Biden will visit Minnesota later for this month for a high-dollar fundraiser.
According to an invitation obtained by the Star Tribune, the vice president will be in Minneapolis on Feb. 19 for a dinner at Minneapolis' Bachelor Farmer restaurant.
The dinner will raise funds for the Democratic National Committee with donations topping out for co-hosts at $32,000.
The Bachelor Farmer, which hosted a lunch for President Obama in 2012, is owned by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's sons.
Biden visited Minnesota to rally supporters in 2012, in 2011 he touched down for a fundraiser for the Obama campaign and in 2010 for a fundraiser for Dayton and a rally.