ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty kept right on campaigning for Mitt Romney after he was passed over once again as a vice presidential candidate on Saturday, praising pick Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as a “bold thinker” and vowing to do “all I can” to help the Republican ticket win.
It was the second time in four years that Pawlenty wasn’t chosen as a running mate. John McCain went with Sarah Palin in 2008, and Pawlenty went to the Minnesota State Fair and back to his gubernatorial duties.
Those close to Pawlenty said he has a variety of options for what he wants to do next — return to politics, end up in a Romney cabinet position or stay in business.
But on Saturday, the onetime presidential candidate continued his work as one of Romney’s top lieutenants. Pawlenty made campaign appearances in New Hampshire, including a Young Republican convention, door-to-door canvassing and an ice cream social. He will also appear on Sunday morning talk shows.
“I am excited about a Romney-Ryan ticket and look forward to doing all I can to help them win this election,” Pawlenty said in a statement.
Pawlenty said Romney called him Monday night to let him know he wasn’t it. But Pawlenty didn’t let on publicly until late Friday, when the Romney campaign announced that its decision would be unveiled Saturday.
Pawlenty’s loyalty points toward a political future that could include running for U.S. Senate or again for governor in Minnesota — both offices are on the ballot in 2014 — or a post in a Romney administration. The 51-year-old attorney also might stay in the business world after joining multiple corporate boards since he ended his presidential run last year.
“He’s young and got experience. He is nationally known. I think the world is open in front of him,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who had been pulling for Pawlenty as Romney’s running mate.
Longtime Pawlenty aide Brian McClung said Pawlenty wasn’t looking for the running mate job, and Pawlenty confidant Charlie Weaver said Pawlenty was “upbeat” when they were in touch Saturday.
Weaver said he would expect Pawlenty’s work for the Romney-Ryan ticket to continue up to the November election, and the fact that Romney and McCain both considered Pawlenty for the No. 2 job showed that he is a top talent in the Republican Party.
“He believes strongly in his values and his vision for the country and that’s just the kind of guy that Pawlenty is,” said Weaver, who served as Pawlenty’s gubernatorial chief of staff. “He’s loyal to his friends and it doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s out door-knocking today.”
Pawlenty served eight years as Minnesota’s governor, leaving office just last year after cultivating a reputation as the state’s most conservative chief executive. Pawlenty spent much of 2011 running for the GOP nomination for president, but his campaign sputtered and he was panned for being too dull for the national stage.
Soon after leaving the race, he endorsed the former Massachusetts governor and became a loyal pitchman. While campaigning for Romney in working-class areas of the country, Pawlenty highlighted his blue-collar roots, showing an economic empathy that is difficult for the multimillionaire Romney to project.
Pawlenty’s evangelical faith is also a plus among social conservatives. He was raised Catholic but began attending an evangelical megachurch during his courtship with his wife.
Weaver, who heads the Minnesota Business Partnership, said Pawlenty could fill the roles of trade representative, attorney general or cabinet secretary in a Romney administration — but says Pawlenty isn’t angling for those jobs.
Republican strategist Ben Golnik said Pawlenty would be formidable if he decided to jump back into Minnesota politics to challenge Democratic Sen. Al Franken or Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in 2014.
“Governor Pawlenty is greatly enjoying his work in the private sector, but he’s also keeping his options open when it comes to a possible run for office in the future,” McClung said.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)