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Pawlenty courting social conservatives in Iowa

Former two-term Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was said to be on a short list of John McCain’s vice-presidential picks in 2008. Now, with another trip to Iowa planned for next month, Pawlenty says a decision on his own bid for the 2012 Republican nomination will come in March or early April.

Pawlenty said his official decision depends on whether his family is prepared for a run, which he says they are, and whether he has the right message. His appearance Sunday at a Christian bookstore in Central Iowa is only one hint that courting evangelical conservatives could be part of his 2012 strategy in the Hawkeye State, which he says is similar to his own home state.

“As you drive from southern Minnesota to northern Iowa, you can’t hardly tell the difference,” Pawlenty said in Ankeny, “because the people are very similar, the landscape is very similar, there’s a lot of the same values and culture in our states and there’s a great, great overlap, and there’s a lot of similarities between Minnesota and Iowa and it feels very comfortable here for me.”

But Pawlenty, after being asked about fellow Minnesotan and tea party favorite U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann testing the waters in Iowa, dismissed the impact of another Midwesterner entering the race.

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/73117232b600x240.jpg.jpgTim Pawlenty signs books during a stop at a Christian bookstore in Ankeny on Sunday (Photo by Tyler Kingkade/Iowa Independent).

“People are going to make decisions about who they want in these offices not based on geography, but based on record and what kind of people they want in these offices,” Pawlenty said.

Perry Aasness, who worked in Pawlenty’s administration and now is vice-president of producer and industry relations at the National Pork Board, said he feels like Pawlenty being a Minnesotan could help him connect with Iowa voters.

“I think people will relate to his style, his personality, and the way he thinks about issues and how he tries to make things better, not just for the state of Minnesota but for the rest of the country,” Aasness said.

Aasness said he admired Pawlenty’s service in Minnesota and feels “his integrity and his leadership and commonsense values” would serve him well in a presidential run.

Bachmann got a warm reception from Iowa Republicans when she spoke at an Iowans for Tax Relief event earlier this month. Other possible presidential candidates are making their Iowa appearances more frequent as well, most notably Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

John Sankovitch said his wife said after picking up a copy of Pawlenty’s new book, Courage To Stand, they found Pawlenty to be a “pretty strong Christian leader” who would do the country well.

Sankovitch said he would likely keep an open mind for a while, but Pawlenty stands for right kinds of things, which he said means being socially conservative with Christian influence.

“We need God back in the decisions that we make, we need to go back to the fore fathers, our constitution is based on that and I think it’s been misinterpreted for a lot of years,” Sankovitch said.

He added that he liked how Pawlenty seemed to retain a calm tone when he talked about issues.

Earlier in the week, Pawlenty very similarly said in an interview “I remind people that our country is founded under God, and the founders thought that was an important perspective. I watch my tone so I don’t get judgmental or angry about issues. I try to express myself in ways that are measured and appropriate and hopefully civil and positive. Lastly, I try not to say that God is on my side, but I strive to be on God’s side.”

After a 2010 election season in Iowa which saw social conservatives lead a campaign to oust three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court over their unanimous 2009 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, Republican lawmakers have continued to push a social agenda in legislation less than a month into the 2011 session in the Iowa legislature. Pawlenty supported the anti-retention campaign.

“It’s time for someone to stand up, there’s a large Christian base that just sat back and things have happened, decisions have been made,” Sankovitch said.

Pawlenty may be trying to make his socially conservative stances more well-known. Recent polling of Minnesota GOP primary voters found Pawlenty trailing Sarah Palin with conservatives, but because of his lead with moderates, he was able to nudge Palin in overall numbers.

He has also been making the rounds of conservative media outlets, like the radio show of American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, where he declared he would advocate reinstating “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the U.S. military.

In the coming weeks, Pawlenty will also meet with some of Iowa’s conservative leaders at the Family Leader. The group is currently lobbying to push an amendment through that would bar all same-sex marriages and civil unions in Iowa.

Mike Huckabee won the 2008 Iowa caucus, and remained aligned with Bob Vander Plaats, now CEO of the Family Leader, since that campaign. While Huckabee leads many polls of 2012 GOP contenders, swooning the support of a group like the Family Leader could help tremendously among conservative voters in Iowa.

Before Sankovitch left, as he and his wife examined the autographs they received, he said they would both be praying for Pawlenty and hoping that he runs.

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