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Pawlenty speculation heats up

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ST. PAUL -- The speculation is almost over.

For months, Minnesota political observers have been preoccupied about whether Gov. Tim Pawlenty will be John McCain's running mate, but the Republican presidential candidate's campaign did its best to keep the decision secret -- and pundits chattering about it -- as long as possible. McCain and his running mate are to appear together in Dayton, Ohio, at 11 a.m. Central time today.

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Many who follow politics nationally put Pawlenty at the top of McCain's vice presidential list.

Reports out of Denver -- where Pawlenty was fronting the McCain campaign's reaction to the Democratic National Convention -- indicated the governor abruptly canceled scheduled media interviews and flew out earlier than planned. That set up a new round of speculation that he would be the pick.

However, while much of the 11th-hour speculation centered on Pawlenty, other would-be vice presidential candidates also were reported to be opening their schedules for today. That led to speculation that many major Republicans would appear with McCain in Dayton.

Others said to be high on McCain's list included former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, ex-Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

Pawlenty, a 47-year-old who serves as a national McCain campaign co-chairman, is a long-time McCain friend who remained loyal to the Arizona Republican senator even when his presidential campaign was faltering. McCain, who turns 72 today, often praises Pawlenty as the future of the Republican Party.

During a late Thursday morning Denver news conference, the governor said he is "scheduled" to be at the Minnesota State fair today, but he emphasized the word "scheduled." At about that time, McCain was telling a radio interviewer that he had not decided on a running mate.

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said Pawlenty's Friday schedule remained as earlier set: "He is planning to do the radio show at the fair tomorrow (I'm planning to be there, too)."

Pawlenty's official schedule, issued late Thursday afternoon, said he would be at the fair this morning for his weekly radio show.

At the Denver news conference, and a later conference telephone call with reporters, Pawlenty said Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is not qualified to be president. But most reporters' questions centered on the vice presidential situation; he avoided answering them.

U.S. Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., would not discuss specifics, either, but said about people mentioned for the GOP vice presidential spot: "Every one of them has significantly more life experience than Barack Obama."

"What have you done and what have you run?" Pawlenty asked about Obama. "The answer is 'not much and nothing.'"

Both Pawlenty and Obama are 47 years old, but Pawlenty said that Obama's state legislative and brief U.S. Senate background do not qualify him to be president.

"I would note I have been a governor for six years, commander in chief of the Minnesota National Guard for six years and before that I was the majority leader of the Minnesota Legislature," Pawlenty said.

"Does the person have the credentials, the wisdom, the judgment to be president of the United States?" Pawlenty said Americans should ask.

Pawlenty fields many questions every day about being McCain's running mate.

In recent months, he has been a regular on national television news programs touting McCain's candidacy. In addition, he has been a favorite speaker at Republican groups nationwide, and now is an up-and-coming GOP fundraiser.

When he announced his second governor campaign in May of 2006, reporters pressed him hard whether he would commit himself to remaining in office the full four years of his second term, citing rumors even then that he would be McCain's running mate. While at first he would not issue that firm commitment, after three questions on the subject he eventually promised to serve out the term.

Davis works for Forum Communications, which owns the Daily Globe.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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