The comparisons between the 2012 and 2004 presidential elections are so pervasive they've wormed their way into the campaign's collective brain, so much so that John Kerry will play Mitt Romney in President Obama's debate prep, and Romney is considering a very John Edwardsesque running mate, Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty, who was briefly a presidential candidate and is the former governor of Minnesota, "has jumped to the top of the vice presidential shortlist," Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei report, because he campaigns well, works hard, and, perhaps most important, doesn't scare the straights. "Pawlenty is strong where Romney is weak — with the regular-guy, working-man connection with voters in casual settings," Politico writes. As Wonkette's Jim Newell pointed out, that sure sounds familiar.
Edwards was Kerry's strongest challenger in 2004, but once he dropped out, he quickly made nice with the Democratic nominee. Pawlenty was considered Kerry's strongest challenger early on, and quickly made nice with the nominee. So both had already been vetted by the press. But more important, both were earthy. Both were likeable. (A new Bloomberg poll finds only 31 percent of Americans would want to sit next to Romney on a long flight. In 2004, a large majority preferred to have a beer with George W. Bush.) In March 2004, Businessweek explained Edwards's appeal in a veepstakes rundown:
The Dazzler: Edwards -- the mill worker's son whose stump skills bring back memories of Clinton -- would inject charisma and vigor into a campaign still prone to Boston Brahmin stiffness. In open primaries, Edwards has scored with independents and Republicans...
Here is Politico today:
"Pawlenty will walk up and put a supporter in a headlock," said a Republican consultant who was startled to witness just that. "He provides a nice yin and yang to Romney."
Several top Republicans said that as the hockey-playing son of a blue-collar worker, and a longtime champion of connecting with what he has called "Sam’s Club Republicans," Pawlenty would be comfortable campaigning among working-class voters in a way that Romney never will be.
Just as Pawlenty puts his parents' careers on his resume, John Edwards never stopped talking about being the "son of a mill worker," as if the experience of manual labor can be magically passed down through DNA, a view Romney appears to share. It was thought that maybe Edwards could win over working-class people, as David Broder wrote in July 2004:
Edwards could help the ticket, not just by forcing President Bush to campaign in North Carolina, but -- more important -- in Appalachian parts of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and the small towns of the Midwest.
Of course, Edwards was not able to deliver North Carolina, or Ohio, or even Iowa for Kerry. And just as Democrats dreamed of poaching some reliable Republican voters in 2004, Republicans want to wade into the blue states of the Upper Midwest. "As a happy accident for Pawlenty, Republican officials have begun eyeing Minnesota as a state they would love to put in play as a “reach state” that Romney could pick up if he got on a roll," Politico reports. But Pawlenty couldn't deliver Minnesota for Romney even in the Republican primary. Pawlenty endorsed Romney and campaigned hard for him, but Rick Santorum won the February 7 caucuses with 45 percent of the vote. Ron Paul came in second with 27 percent, and Romney was a distant third with 17 percent.