AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We've been hearing about some potential running mates for Mitt Romney this week. Yesterday, we profiled Ohio Sen. Rob Portman; and asked whether he's a safe choice, or a choice that would bring some sizzle to the ticket. Today, the same question about another man who appears on many lists of potential running mates - Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor of Minnesota. NPR's Brian Naylor has this profile.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: As he shadowed President Obama's bus tour in Pennsylvania early this month, Tim Pawlenty gave a pretty good impression of a man auditioning for a job. There was Pawlenty as attack dog, one of the traditional roles of a running mate.
TIM PAWLENTY: I don't know if he's not listening, or he doesn't care, or he doesn't understand. But we've had enough of his teleprompter speeches. We've had enough of him flapping his jaws. We've got too many Americans who are hurting, too many Americans who are unemployed, too many Americans who are underemployed...
NAYLOR: And there was Pawlenty as loyal lieutenant, heaping praise on the presumptive Republican nominee.
PAWLENTY: Mitt Romney's got a tremendous vision for this country. It's a vision not based on a European style of more government everything. It's based on the American tradition of limited government. He's got proposals to lower taxes for businesses and for individuals. He wants to get federal spending under control. That's the kind of direction America needs.
NAYLOR: Fifty-one-year-old Tim Pawlenty's background couldn't be more different from Mitt Romney's. He's the son of a truck driver. His mother died while he was young. He's an evangelical Christian. Ben Golnik served as Pawlenty's press secretary during his brief presidential run last year. He says Pawlenty's modest upbringing helps him connect with people.
BEN GOLNIK: Whether it's going into a VFW lodge; or going to a Chamber of Commerce meeting, talking to businessmen and women, or talking to a group of CEOs from Fortune 500 companies, he's very comfortable in his own skin. He's genuine. He's authentic. And I think that that quality - being able to communicate effectively - would serve him well in the Midwest and some of Rust Belt States, with blue-collar workers, some of those Reagan Democrats.
NAYLOR: Pawlenty's two terms as governor of Minnesota, and the fact he was considered as John McCain's running mate in 2008, help make him a safe pick for Romney. There's been some grumbling in the conservative blogosphere that he's insufficiently conservative. He once supported a cap-and-trade solution to global warming, and raised taxes on tobacco in Minnesota.
Former Republican Congressman Vin Weber, of Minnesota, says the carping is nonsense.
VIN WEBER: We went through all this when Tim ran for president. And he did change his mind on the issue of cap and trade, and on the broader issue of how we should approach climate change. But other than that, you know, I've just got to tell you, coming from the state of Minnesota - home of Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Eugene McCarthy, Paul Wellstone, Al Franken - he is the most conservative governor in my lifetime, by far.
NAYLOR: During the GOP primary campaign, Pawlenty criticized Romney's stance on health care, dubbing the plan he implemented as Massachusetts governor, Obamneycare. He backed away from the characterization during one debate with Romney. But given the chance at a subsequent debate, he returned to it.
PAWLENTY: Look, Obamacare was patterned after the - Mitt's plan in Massachusetts. And for Mitt - or anyone else - to say that there aren't substantial similarities, or they're not essentially the same plan, it just isn't credible. So that's why I called it Obamneycare, and I think that's a fair label. And I'm happy to call it that again tonight.
NAYLOR: That difference seems to have been patched over. Pawlenty's biggest drawback - or maybe biggest plus - as a candidate, could be his lack of sizzle. He jokes about it, yesterday offering to show a Fox interviewer his "tats." But Vin Weber - who, by the way, is an unpaid adviser to Romney, and neutral in the veepstakes - says Pawlenty is solid and tested, which may be all he needs.
WEBER: Republicans who want to compete with President Obama on the charisma scale, I think, are going to find themselves disappointed, no matter who they choose. I don't think that that's the contrast that wins us the White House. I think the country will warm to him very quickly, and find a lot of charm and a lot of - maybe more low-key charisma, but nonetheless charisma.
NAYLOR: Weber and other Republicans say Pawlenty is ready to assume the presidency if need be. And perhaps equally important, Romney is said to be comfortable with him.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.