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Haslam ‘Not Close’ to Picking GOP Presidential Favorite

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday he has not decided whom to support in the Republican field for president and isn’t inclined to tell his family or members of his administration whom to support either.

Haslam said roughly half the GOP candidates have called him to say they would like his help.

“I’m honestly not close to making a decision about who I’ll support,” he said.

Haslam said he met with a group of business representatives Thursday night and so did not see a televised debate among the GOP candidates in Ames, Iowa.

“I’m like most people. I’m interested in the political process, probably a little more than most,” Haslam said. “I’m obviously interested in the Republican primary, so I’ll be watching that.”

The governor downplayed the significance of a widely anticipated Iowa straw poll scheduled in Iowa on Saturday.

“I’m not an expert on Iowa presidential politics, but I’m not sure the straw vote is the final word on where Iowa goes, or where the country goes,” he said.

Haslam said his family and administration are free to go their own ways in deciding whom to support.

“They’re grown-ups who get to make their own decision,” Haslam said. “Really, on this one, I haven’t said, ‘Please don’t get involved.’

“Other members of my family are trying to decide who they’re going to support and help. They’re probably at the listen-and-learn stage as well.”

Haslam’s commissioner of economic development, Bill Hagerty, was a national finance chairman for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2008. But Haslam said his only directive to his administration is not to do any presidential politicking on the state’s nickel.

“What I’ve said is, ‘Anything you do, you need to do on your own time and not take away from state resources and state time,'” Haslam said. “After that, I think they’re adults who should be able to support who they want.”

While Haslam hasn’t committed, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey this week said he will be supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Republican candidates who debated in Iowa on Thursday were Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Congressman Michele Bachmann, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, businessman Herman Cain, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

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Pawlenty: GOP Stands to Gain from Voters’ Deficit Disdain

Presidential politics for 2012 are already being discussed, and Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker came right out and linked Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to that race at Friday’s Tennessee Republican Party Statesmen’s Dinner.

Pawlenty was the featured speaker at the state party’s big event of the year in Nashville, and Pawlenty delivered an address to about 1,500 people with a message that echoed the same conservative rhetoric sweeping Tennessee.

Alexander introduced Pawlenty as “Minnesota’s Ronald Reagan,” a conservative governor in a liberal state.

“He’s strong on education and cutting spending,” Alexander said. “We’re delighted to have him here.”

Corker told the crowd at the Nashville Convention Center, “My sense is he may think about running for president. Let’s make sure somebody like him or some other outstanding Republican candidate becomes president and changes the direction of this country.”

Pawlenty told the audience that if they doubted what it meant to be a conservative governor of Minnesota, he reminded them that it was the “land of Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Paul Wellstone, Jesse Ventura and current Sen. Al Franken.

“You think Massachusetts is liberal? They voted for Reagan twice. Minnesota never did. In one election, 49 states voted for Reagan, and guess which one didn’t?”

His reference was to 1984 when Mondale was the Democratic nominee and lost to Reagan in a landslide, with Mondale carrying only his home state.

Pawlenty spoke of “state-sponsored companies too big to fail, a federal government too big to succeed, federal debt too big to pay off and leaders in the Democratic Party around this nation too small to do anything about it.”

Pawlenty said American common sense has been “steamrolled” by a coalition of big government and certain businesses that scratch each others’ backs.

“We see a country under siege from its own government. Have you had enough?” he asked. “We need to rise up and fight back.”

Pawlenty said the government is operating like a credit card and played on the familiar MasterCard commercial to make his point.

“Stimulus bill $800 billion. Misguided Wall Street bailout $700 billion. Ridiculous health care plan $2.6 trillion. Cap and trade $2,000-plus per family. Republicans getting elected this November priceless,” he said.

Pawlenty told the crowd not to shy away from religious convictions.

“It’s OK. In fact, it’s appropriate to stop and thank and acknowledge God,” he said. “People say it’s politically incorrect, blah blah blah. Hogwash. It’s in the founding documents of this nation. It’s what George Washington believed. It’s what Abraham Lincoln believed.

“We shouldn’t turn away from him now.”

He told a story the audience enjoyed.

“A high-ranking leader, a female leader, came into my office,” he said. “She came in and said her enterprise was in huge trouble. She said the balance sheet was a mess. The employees are overpaid and underperforming. ‘We are up to our ears in debt, nobody is buying what we’re selling,’ she said. She said there are going to be layoffs, and even she could be laid off.

“And I said, ‘But Speaker Pelosi, we don’t do bailouts, but if there’s any consolation, there are going to be big changes come this November.'”

Pawlenty met briefly with members of the media prior to the event, along with Alexander and Corker. He said Tennessee had “a lot of natural beauty” and “wonderful economic potential.”

He said he would very much like to see a Republican governor elected in Tennessee. Pawlenty said he is traveling the country but focused for now on elections in 2010. He said he would make a decision on 2012 early next year.