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OUR OPINION: The importance of winning big

Tim Pawlenty had presidential ambitions. Chris Christie has presidential ambitions. This morning, Minnesota Republicans could be forgiven for looking at New Jersey and thinking about what might have been. For months, New Jersey Gov. Christie has ...

Our Opinion

Tim Pawlenty had presidential ambitions. Chris Christie has presidential ambitions.

This morning, Minnesota Republicans could be forgiven for looking at New Jersey and thinking about what might have been.

For months, New Jersey Gov. Christie has been a front-runner for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. And this morning, his position is more commanding than ever, because Christie amassed something in blue-state New Jersey that Pawlenty never managed in Minnesota.

That something is a huge margin -- and not just among Republicans.

As recently as Monday, a Quinnipiac University poll had Christie getting the votes of 64 percent of independents, 57 percent of women and a remarkable 30 percent of Democrats.

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Those numbers seem to have held up, which means Christie-for-President 2016 began a few minutes after 8 p.m. on Election Night, poll director Maurice Carroll told reporters.

Contrast that with Pawlenty's performance in his campaigns. Pawlenty faced prominent DFLer Roger Moe and Independence Party candidate Tim Penny in 2002; he won with a plurality -- 44 percent.

More tellingly, Minnesotans in 2006 hadn't much warmed up to their governor. That time around, Pawlenty beat DFL candidate Mike Hatch, but only by 1 percent -- 46.7 percent to Hatch's 45.7 percent.

After deciding not to seek a third term, Pawlenty ran for president in 2012, highlighting his re-election in an often-Democratic state.

But that's where his thin margin hurt. It simply wasn't big enough to command much respect, either among Republican primary voters or, ultimately, Mitt Romney himself, who considered but rejected Pawlenty for the vice-presidential spot.

How did Christie rack up such exceptional numbers? In the classic manner of almost every politician who has crossover appeal: By choosing his battles with care and not being afraid to stake out important terrain in the center.

That strategy was open to then-Gov. Pawlenty. We'll never know what might have happened if he had pursued it.

But we do know -- or at least we can make an informed guess -- that if Pawlenty had been a popular governor throughout his two terms and coasted to re-election with a 60 percent vote, 2012 would have been a very different race.

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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