Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) has already decided not to run for a third term in 2012 -- perhaps freeing him for a run for the White House. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Still exhausted from that epic 2008 campaign? Too bad. Hate to tell you, but 2012 is already around the corner.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's announcement Tuesday that he's not running for re-election now gives him the flexibility to decide if he wants to run for the top job in Washington. Why not? The best thing that might have happened to him in 2008 was that he was on John McCain's vice-presidential short-list -- but didn't get the job. His name recognition rose, but he isn't tainted with the hangover of the '08 campaign (see how Sarah Palin is dealing with that).
Of course, Pawlenty's decision means that everything coming from him in the days ahead will be seen by likely 2012 rivals -- as well as Democrats -- as positioning for the White House. Indeed, Pawlenty probably telegraphed his plans well before his actual announcement. How so? Note how he's been able to withstand pressure to weigh in on his state's still-unresolved U.S. Senate seat. Most Minnesota voters think Al Franken defeated incumbent Norm Coleman, but the contest continues in court. Pawlenty could have made a decision to recognize Franken in terms of the best interests of the state's representation in Washington.
However, he's now thinking about distributing and collecting chits for a possible 2012 run. He has to figure out what will either please, mollify or anger the GOP base. Helping the Democrats to their veto-proof 60th vote in the Senate would fall squarely into the "anger" category.
Other 2012 contenders currently in office have time on their side. Current National Review cover boy Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford are both term-limited, so they can easily take the next step without having to choose between their state and the national ambitions (though, again, their opponents will accuse them of doing just that -- as Sanford's are already, in a dust-up over the stimulus package).
On the other hand, at least one other possible 2012 wannabe has to make an awkward decision pretty soon: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is up for re-election in 2011. That's perhaps the worst possible date. While Sarah Palin can run for a second term next year while playing coy about her 2012 plans, it's much more difficult for Jindal. It's one thing to say, 'I'm only thinking about serving the people of my state' when the presidential election is two years away. When that date is only a year in the future, that kind of cutesy political rhetoric won't work. For that matter, it's much easier for in-state opponents to force a decision one way or the other.
As a result, take the bet that Jindal decides to run for re-election -- while announcing that he will not be a presidential candidate in 2012.
Of course, that doesn't mean that he can't be a good vice-presidential candidate -- maybe even Tim Pawlenty's.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.