Tim Pawlenty All But Announces

Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota spoke on Friday night to the conservative Values Voter Summit hosted by the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council in Washington DC delivering a partisan attack on the policies of the Obama Administration.

The story in the New York Times:

After warming up by discussing his record back home and the importance of faith and values, Mr. Pawlenty, a Republican in his second term as governor, struck at the Democrats' attempts to overhaul the health care system.

"This proposal needs to get killed," Mr. Pawlenty said. "It is a bad idea."

"With all due respect, Mr. President, if we're out of money, stop spending it," he also said.

Mr. Pawlenty also referenced -- and seemed far from upset about -- a new campaign from the Democratic National Committee that he was the first target of. The campaign is titled "Call `Em Out," a reference to Mr. Obama's vow during his address to Congress last week.

The Minnesota governor elicited a standing ovation by retorting, "I'll respond by calling out the president back tonight."

Earlier in the speech, Mr. Pawlenty had stressed his pro-life bona fides, an important topic in a conference sponsored by, among others, the socially conservative Family Research Council.

And he touted his record in Minnesota, where he said he turned a "left-of-center state into a fiscally responsible state."

If that can be done in a state that produced well-known liberals like Hubert H. Humphrey and Walter Mondale, he said, it can be done anywhere.

At a time when his official public events as governor have been few and far between, Governor Pawlenty has been stumping across the country, speaking to GOP audiences and offering the party's critique of Democrats on TV talk shows. Tonight, he all but announced his candidacy for President.

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Handicapping the 2012 Republican field

Senator John Ensign of Nevada is coming to northwest Iowa today for stops at Trans Ova Genetics in Sioux Center and a famous ice cream shop in Le Mars before he delivers a speech in Sioux City.

The American Future Fund invited Ensign as part of a lecture series, and American Future Fund spokesman Tim Albrecht spoke to Radio Iowa about him:

Albrecht describes the 51-year-old Ensign as a "strong" conservative.

"I think that Senator Ensign will be able to introduce himself to a group of active conservatives who are thirsty for a new voice, a new person, to really pick up the banner and carry it on their behalf," Albrecht says.

Are conservatives "thirsty for a new voice," as in someone who hasn't already run for president? The Republican Party has a history of nominating presidential candidates on their second or third try: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain.

Ensign looks like a fairly generic Republican to me. He would need to do something to distinguish himself in the next few years to avoid becoming the Sam Brownback or Tommy Thompson of 2012.

UPDATE: Ensign gave Iowa Politics an interview:

"I'm not running for president," said Ensign, who's chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "What I'm doing is raising my profile. I believe we need new voices and fresh voices in the Republican Party who can articulate a message of our core Republican principles."

More thoughts on likely Republican presidential candidates are after the jump.

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Huckabee headlines "Fair Tax" rally in South Carolina

Mike Huckabee spoke today at a South Carolina rally organized by Americans for Fair Taxation. (Hat tip to Bob Vander Plaats, a gubernatorial candidate who was Huckabee's Iowa chairman during the last presidential campaign.)

Of the many bad economic policy ideas Republicans have floated in recent years, the so-called "fair tax" has to be one of the worst. However, Huckabee's embrace of the "fair tax"was a key factor in his surge of support among Iowa Republicans during the summer of 2007. It was one of the few issues that distinguished Huckabee from a crowded field of social conservatives.

If Huckabee does run for president again in 2012, it looks as if he'll be running on the same economic platform. Will the "fair tax" become widely popular among Republicans outside Iowa by then? Your guess is as good as mine.

This thread is for any comments about Huckabee or tax policy. I would love to see some polling data on the Iowans who caucused for Huckabee last year. Are they committed to sticking with him if he runs again, or would they keep their minds open for Sarah Palin or perhaps some Republican who's not well-known today? My impression from talking with a few Huckabee fans is that they still like him but would give serious consideration to the alternatives.

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Republican hypocrisy watch: Tom Latham edition (IA-04)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been tracking  House Republicans who try to take credit for provisions in the economic stimulus or 2009 omnibus spending bill, even after voting against both measures.

The latest addition to the "House Republicans' Hypocrisy Hall of Fame" is Representative Tom Latham of Iowa's fourth district. He has been sending out press releases touting earmarks he inserted in the 2009 omnibus spending bill, without mentioning that he didn't support the bill on the House floor. This is from the DCCC's press release of March 12:

In a striking example of hypocrisy, after voting against the recently enacted FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations, Congressman Tom Latham is taking credit for millions of dollars included in the legislation that will help local community colleges, health care clinics, and renewable energy producers in  Iowa 's 4th Congressional District.

"Congressman Latham keeps telling people he `secured' millions of dollars in funding for Iowa, but the truth is he voted against these investments," said Gabby Adler, the Midwestern Regional Press Secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  "Congressman Latham can't hide from his voting record, no matter how hard he tries.  Counter to what Congressman Latham would have you believe, these millions of dollars aren't coming to Iowa because of his hard work, these investments are being made in spite of Congressman Latham's efforts to defeat this bill and the funding for Iowa."

In every single press release sent out by Congressman Latham announcing investments for Iowa included in the FY 2009 Appropriations, he not only hid the fact he voted against the legislation but he led people to believe he championed its passage.  One release read Congressman Latham "once again this past week demonstrated his commitment to community colleges," another one discussed his role as a "long-time supporter" of new health care technologies.  In a third release, Congressman Latham even referred to his support of Iowa's renewable energy industry as "steadfast" despite his vote against $1.4 million for a cutting edge wind energy project in Iowa.

After the jump I've posted the rest of the DCCC's release, which contains further details about the earmarks Latham voted against but is now taking credit for.

The two-faced Republican position on earmarks is truly sickening.

Latham may feel secure in IA-04 for 2010 after receiving more than 60 percent of the vote last November. However, in 2012 he will probably have to run in a redrawn third district, which may not be as friendly as his current turf. For that reason, I have wondered whether voting for some of President Barack Obama's policies would be in Latham's political interest, or whether he would be better off rejecting every significant White House proposal, like most House Republicans.

Apparently Latham plans to have it both ways and hope Iowans don't notice.

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Will Steele keep Iowa first in 2012?

If Iowa's representatives on the Republican National Committee had had their way, Michael Steele would not be the party's new chairman.

Iowa RNC Committeeman Steve Scheffler and Committeewoman Kim Lehman both supported South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson, who turned out to be Steele's toughest rival in yesterday's voting.  Don't ask me why Republicans who presumably want to start winning elections again would want the party's leader to be a southerner who was in an all-white country club when the GOP is looking more like a regional party than ever before and the Democratic president (who happens to be black) is wildly popular.  

Seriously, to hear Dawson explain the roots of his political views, it all started when he got mad that the government desegregated his school when he was 15. Just the guy to give the GOP a more tolerant, inclusive image!

But I digress.

Scheffler and Lehman didn't quietly prefer a different candidate for RNC chair, they went on record criticizing Steele earlier this month:

Though the pro-life and pro-gun Steele built a conservative record in his home state, the former Maryland lieutenant governor's one-time affiliation with the Republican Leadership Council, which religious conservatives view as hostile to their agenda, remains a deal breaker in some sectors of the committee.

"That is an organization that created itself for the purpose of eliminating a very important part of the Republican Party and its family values," said Iowa Committeewoman Kim Lehman, who supports South Carolina Republican Party Chair Katon Dawson's campaign. "Michael Steele crossed over a serious line."

"In that field, the only one that would be my number six out of six choice would be Michael Steele," said Iowa Committeeman Steve Scheffler, citing Steele's "past deep involvement with the Republican Leadership Council."

"They partnered with groups like Planned Parenthood," said Scheffler, who joined Lehman in endorsing Dawson. "In my view, you don't lend your name to a group if you don't agree with them."

Incidentally, Lehman has a history of intolerance toward Republicans who believe abortion should be legal even in limited circumstances such as rape or incest. The State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Iowa censured her in December for failing to support Republican Congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02).

Iowa's third RNC member, newly elected state GOP chairman Matt Strawn, endorsed the incumbent RNC chair Mike Duncan earlier this week but apparently backed Dawson over Steele in the later ballots yesterday.

Steele's election immediately sparked concern among some Iowa politicos that we may lose our first-in-the-nation status when the GOP selects its next presidential nominee. However, Strawn, Scheffler and Lehman had only praise for Steele in their official statements. Strawn said,

"I am excited to work with Chairman Steele to advance our principled agenda, rebuild our party from the grassroots up, and elect Republicans all across Iowa.  I am also encouraged by my conversations with Chairman Steele regarding Iowa's First in the Nation presidential status. I will work closely with him to ensure Iowa retains its leading role for the 2012 caucus and beyond."

Side note regarding the RNC leadership contest: I was surprised that former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell turned out not to be a serious contender, despite lining up a long list of endorsements from conservative intellectuals.

With Steele and Blackwell back in the news this month, I've really missed Steve Gilliard. He used to write hilarious posts about them in 2006, culminating in the classic rant You Have Shamed Us.

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