Tim Pawlenty staffer recalls VP frenzy

It’s a scenario that sounds familiar: a Midwestern governor, last name starting with P, on the shortlist for vice-presidential running mate. For one of the top staffers for Governor Tim Pawlenty, the media frenzy surrounding Mike Pence, governor of Indiana, reminds him of 2008.

“With all of these things happening, it made it look to the outside world like Tim Pawlenty was going to be the pick,” Brian McClung, the director of communications for Governor Pawlenty in 2008, told Fox 9.

Media diversion or speculation silencer?

McClung says he started to think Pawlenty might be Senator John McCain’s choice for running mate on the eve of the announcement: when the campaign told Pawlenty to stop doing interviews near the Democratic Convention in Denver where he was playing attack dog — and, instead, fly back to Minnesota.

“Suddenly, half way through that day, the staff for the McCain campaign came in and abruptly canceled all of our interviews. Tim Pawlenty had fifteen interviews lined up that were wiped off the books. They said we’re concerned that the speculation for our VP was growing, and that it might leak out. So we’re going to cut your schedule short, send you to the airport, and have you go back to Minnesota. It became clear McCain was going to announce his running mate the next day,” McClung, a founder at MZA + Company, said.

“When they cut off Governor Pawlenty’s schedule, and sent him home, the assumption was it was because he was the pick and they wanted to get Governor Pawlenty away from all the news media who were in Denver for the convention, and allow the opportunity to announce him the next day in Ohio,” McClung said.

Whether the McCain campaign sent Pawlenty home to avoid media speculation, or as a diversion, is still not known. However, it’s clear the move ignited a media firestorm.

Katie Couric calls

“I’m sitting at the airport bar in Denver. My cell is ringing off the hook, so every major national news outlet is calling me asking whether I’ll comment, whether Tim Pawlenty will comment,” McClung said, “my favorite was I got a call from Katie Couric, who was then the anchor for the CBS Evening News, and says,  ‘hey Brian, it’s Katie. I know you’re really busy right now, but if you could by chance, let me know if Governor Pawlenty is going to be the pick.’”

Pawlenty received a call from McCain the next day, informing him the candidate was then a mostly unknown governor from Alaska named Sarah Palin.

Two stages

“At the very moment Sarah Palin was on stage in Ohio being announced as John McCain’s running mate, Tim Pawlenty was on stage at the State Fair doing his radio show,” McClung said, “to think, he could have been on that stage in Ohio, rather than on the state at the Minnesota State Fair, it was really interesting.”

Pawlenty would also be on the shortlist for running mate in 2012, when Governor Mitt Romney was the republican candidate.