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It's not Pawlenty, it's Palin

ST. PAUL - Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will not be John McCain's running mate, but today highly praised the woman who will be.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is the pick. Pawlenty described her as a terrific selection and a reformer.

"She's going to be a wonder, terrific, outstanding pick for the Republican Party, but more importantly she is going to be a great leader for our country," Pawlenty said.

Palin is the first woman and youngest governor of Alaska, and had only been mentioned as a dark horse running mate possibility.

McCain's campaign touted Palin in a news release:

"Palin has challenged the influence of the big oil companies while fighting for the development of new energy resources. She leads a state that matters to every one of us -- Alaska has significant energy resources and she has been a leader in the fight to make America energy independent.

"In Alaska, Gov. Palin challenged a corrupt system and passed a landmark ethics reform bill."

Pawlenty said Palin appeals to many of the same voters that he would. He calls them "Sam Club Republicans" because they are middle-class Americans who look for value in both the store and at the ballot box.

Like Palin, most Americans had not heard of Pawlenty. But the Minnesota governor's name became more and more mentioned as a possible running mate in recent days.

"I am just honored to be considered and I am honored to be governor of the great state of Minnesota," he said this morning during his weekly radio show at the Minnesota State Fair.

Pawlenty said he did not support McCain to get anew job.

"I never got into this with the idea that I needed or wanted something out of it," Pawlenty said

McCain's pick of Palin ends more than two years of speculation that Pawlenty would be the Republican vice presidential candidate.

McCain often has said Pawlenty will be a key to the Republican Party's future. Others agree.

Minnesota GOP Chairman Ron Carey called Pawlenty a "two thumbs up" type of leader for the party. Most Minnesotans are disappointed McCain did not pick Pawlenty, Carey added.

"You would love to see Gov. Pawlenty on the ticket from a Minnesota pride standpoint," he said.

However, Carey looked toward the future.

"He's well positioned for long-term leadership in the Republican Party," Carey said. "He has a very bright future.

This morning, Pawlenty would not predict his future. He said he will decide early next year if he will run for a third term as governor, adding that he will not talk about the issue until then.

Pawlenty said he and McCain have not discussed whether he would have a place in the Cabinet.

State Fair visitors crowded around the radio booth at the beginning of the governor's show.

As he approached the radio booth, a woman told him: "I'm glad you are staying." He laughed.

About two-thirds of the crowd left after he answered a question about the vice presidential situation.

Palin will be the first woman on a Republican national ticket. Minnesotan Walter Mondale picked the first major-party woman running mate, Geraldine Ferrero, when he ran for president in 1984.

Palin may face problems because her office is under legislative investigation for a request to have her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired. She has denied involvement.

Palin and her husband, Alaska businessman Todd Palin, have five children, the youngest born last April.

She is an Idaho native who graduated in 1987 with a University of Idaho communications and journalism degree.

Ironically, Palin is less experienced than Pawlenty, who has been criticized as being too inexperienced to be vice president.

Speculation escalated that Pawlenty was the pick on Thursday afternoon when he abruptly canceled several interviews in Denver, where he was talking up McCain's campaign as the Democratic National Convention ended. At one point, he told reporters that his background is stronger than that of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Pawlenty said Obama is not qualified to be president. But most reporters' questions centered on the vice presidential situation; he avoided answering them.

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, fueling speculation that he was in the race.

Pawlenty is a national co-chairman of the McCain campaign. Their close relationship is one of the reasons Pawlenty had been considered a top vice presidential contender.

Pawlenty remained loyal to McCain even when his presidential campaign was faltering. McCain, who turns 72 today, often praises Pawlenty as the future of the Republican Party.

Pawlenty's loyalty to McCain - a trait the presidential candidate treasures - is one reason political observers thought the governor had a good shot at being a vice presidential candidate.

Take, for instance, how he showed loyalty to his president.

It was April 18, 2001, when Pawlenty planned to announce he was running for the U.S. Senate, against fellow Republican Norm Coleman, then St. Paul mayor. The night before, Pawlenty received a telephone call from a top Bush White House official - on behalf of President Bush - urging him to stay out of the race, giving Coleman a clear shot at the nomination to battle then-Sen. Paul Wellstone in the fall of 2002.

On the morning of his announcement, Pawlenty was taking his daughters home from a dental appointment when his mobile telephone rang. It was Vice President Dick Cheney, repeating the request to stand down.

So when it came time for Pawlenty to step in front of reporters, he said that he would not run for the Senate.

The then-Eagan lawmaker said Cheney made no promises when he asked Pawlenty to not run. But a few months later when Pawlenty's campaign for governor asked White House officials for help, they offered Cheney. A fundraiser delivered $250,000.

Since then, Cheney and President Bush have said many good things about Pawlenty - and he about them - but the governor's real loyalty is to McCain.

Even in the McCain campaign's lowest days, when it looked like he might be forced out of the race due to lack of money and a stumbling organization, Pawlenty stood behind him.

Political pundits said Pawlenty would have been a safe selection for McCain because he is a conservative, and would have few problems among fellow Republicans. However, polls were mixed on whether he could even help carry Minnesota for McCain.

Ironically, one of the complaints about Pawlenty is the same one McCain's campaign uses about Obama - he is too inexperienced.

In recent months, he has been a regular on national television news programs touting McCain's candidacy, at times even talking about foreign policy. He has become 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.

Earlier this summer, he showed agitation when Minnesota reporters asked him about the subject, but usually delivered a line like: "I'm happy with my day job." He showed no such anger when national reporters asked him the same question.

Then, on July 24, Pawlenty regained his cheerful nature. But he refused to talk about the vice presidential situation.

"You're kind to ask, but I have just stopped engaging in that discussion because it just feeds more speculation," Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty also declined to say whether he plans to serve out the rest of his term as governor, a change for him. "I'm not going to engage in the (vice presidential) discussion any more until that is decided."

Now, it has been decided.

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.