Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, is set to declare that he is opening a presidential exploratory committee, a step that formalizes a campaign for the Republican nomination that he has been pondering for more than a year.
In case you missed it, Ramesh Ponnuru anticipated and lauded this move in a recent National Review cover titled, "Pawlenty to Like." Ponnuru rightly notes that Pawlenty's "main problem is simple: Most Americans have never heard of him." I assume that is why he is getting out in front of the crowd. Ponnuru also opines that Pawlenty "may just be the Republicans' strongest presidential candidate for 2012. Compared with his competitors, he is either more conservative, more electable, or both."
Let the games begin.
P.S. Ponnuru's take on the match-up between Pawlenty and other GOP contenders is worth reproducing here.
Pawlenty is more electable than Palin, who is on the wrong end of a two-to-one split in public opinion; or Huckabee, who has never demonstrated any ability to win votes from non-evangelical voters; or Gingrich, who has enough baggage to open a Louis Vuitton store; or Haley Barbour, who, as a former lobbyist for tobacco companies and the governor of Mississippi, combines several Republican stereotypes to damaging effect. Electability would probably hand Pawlenty the nomination in a one-on-one race against any of these contenders.
He would probably beat Romney in a head-to-head race, too. Like Romney, Pawlenty was elected governor of a blue state in 2002. But there are at least five big differences between them that primary voters may find tell in the Minnesotan's favor. First, Pawlenty was elected as a conservative whereas Romney ran as a moderate. Second, Pawlenty pursued a more confrontational strategy: He didn't cut any grand bipartisan deal, as Romney did with Ted Kennedy on health care. Third, and as a result, Pawlenty's record does not include anything as likely to offend conservative voters as Romney's Massachusetts health-care law, which made the purchase of health insurance compulsory. Fourth, Pawlenty won reelection in his blue state, even in 2006, which was a slaughterhouse of a year for Republicans. Romney, by contrast, left the governorship after one term: He was unable to position himself as a conservative for a presidential run while staying popular in his home state. Fifth, Pawlenty has an ability to connect to blue-collar voters that Romney has never demonstrated.
Governor Daniels could be competitive with Pawlenty in a side-by-side comparison. But Pawlenty is in some respects a more impressive political figure. Indiana is a red state that will almost certainly vote for any Republican nominee in 2012; Daniel has never had to win over blue-state voters as Pawlenty did. And Pawlenty has better relations with social conservatives than Daniels does.