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Tim Pawlenty: Meeting and Greeting on Mike Huckabee’s Arkansas Turf

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Arkansas doesn’t have the political star power of Iowa or New Hampshire, but that isn’t stopping potential 2012 presidential hopefuls from visiting.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty popped into the state this week to meet with GOP elected officials and leaders. His journey to the land of former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee was the first this year for a likely GOP contender for the White House.

Pawlenty had no public events in Arkansas, but this wasn’t about selling books and giving a speech to the masses. Pawlenty’s visit focused on networking and making big-money connections.

“Pawlenty has the gift of time and he’s using some of that time to make connections in places that are in play — or potentially in play,” said Jay Barth, chairman of the Department of Politics and International Relations at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. “Arkansas falls in the latter category if Huckabee stays out of the race or has to drop out if he fails in Iowa.”

Pawlenty hosted a roundtable with new GOP elected officials and the party’s state chairman. He then spoke to about 30 state executive committee members and party leaders about his vision for the country and answered questions. According to sources at the meeting, Pawlenty made it clear he is contemplating a presidential run, but has not yet reached a decision.

His presence in Arkansas certainly resonated with GOP leaders, who said privately that they viewed his visit as a salute to a state that gained more Republican federal and legislative seats in 2010 than it has ever had in the modern political era.

But Pawlenty’s visit also underscored two other key points.

First, politicians pondering a presidential run aren’t scared to trek into the turf of native son Huckabee, who leads in some 2012 polls. Secondly, the state is also home to a lot of potential GOP cash.

Last year, Huckabee announced that he was moving to Florida. In Arkansas, some Republicans saw the move as egotistical and a slap in the face to a state that had supported Huckabee, the longest serving Republican governor, at a time when Republicans had little power.

But Huckabee, who stays busy with many projects, including a weekly show on Fox News, didn’t turn his back on Arkansas. He appeared at a major campaign rally last fall for the GOP ticket and his Huck PAC supported many candidates in the midterm elections.

Huckabee has not had any public events this year in Arkansas. On his upcoming tour for his new book “A Simple Government,” Arkansas is not a scheduled stop but several 2012 key states (Iowa, South Carolina and Florida) as well as Southern states that border Arkansas (Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi) are.

But Huckabee says he walks a fine line as a former governor coming in to meet with local politicians. He says he doesn’t want people to think he is “butting in their business” at the state capitol.

“I try to keep a low profile in Arkansas because I don’t feel it appropriate to get publicly involved in the goings on of state government,” he told Politics Daily. “I have talked to friends there and would be delighted to talk with those who wanted my counsel, but I am not going to impose myself.”

This week’s visit was Pawlenty’s second to Arkansas in less than two years. In June 2009, he spoke to 400 people at a fundraiser for the state Republican Party.

At this stage for candidates testing the presidential waters, it’s about raising enough money to remain in the conversation and signing up major business leaders to be on a campaign team. Despite its low average income, Arkansas consistently rates near the top when it comes to the number of millionaires per capita and it is home to Wal-Mart, Murphy Oil, Tyson Foods and Stephens Inc., to name a few high-profile companies.

Republican Lt. Governor Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, who died in 2006, was a billionaire oil heir and his widow, Lisenne, is still a generous donor to the Republican Party.

Stephens Group Inc., and the Stephens family, have been a major player in national politics. Last October, Stephens Investments Holdings LLC gave $100,000 to American Crossroads, a 527 organization that defends and elects “center-right candidates to federal office.”

Even if Pawlenty chooses not to run for president, which is looking ever less likely, the connections that he develops on his journeys — next week he hits the Tea Party Summit in Phoenix — will only help his Freedom First PAC and book sales.

And as for Arkansas, it will probably not be a 2012 battleground state, but it could play an oversized role in the the political money game.

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Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 3:55 am

Sarah Palin in a Little Rock Sam’s Club: Signs Books, Ignores Media

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Sam’s Club – the Walmart-owned megastore that sells almost everything in bulk – is hardly the epitome of glamour.

So where does a superstar like Sarah Palin set up shop to sign books here? Amid the pallets of canned green beans? Behind the sea of poinsettias? Near the crates of toilet paper? Palin’s choice: In the back of the store behind the frozen-food freezers.

But her reception in Clinton – and Mike Huckabee – country was anything but chilly.

More than 500 people lined up on a cold night here to meet Palin, who signed her new book, “America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag,” earlier in the day at a stop in Baton Rouge, La. Some arrived before 5 a.m. to get in line for one of the 500 coveted purple wristbands entitling the wearer to get two books signed and to meet Sarah. That’s what her fans call her: “Sarah.” Simply Sarah, as if she is a best friend.

Members of the media were scooped up, identified and herded away immediately upon their arrival to a spot near the throngs of Palinites, whose ages ranged from 5 to 85, with some in wheelchairs and many with canes. A media escort spilled to me that Tuesday’s crowd was considerably smaller than Palin’s previous one last December, when more than 1,500 people showed up in northwest Arkansas to brave frigid weather for a brush with Palin and a copy of “Going Rogue.”

Near the front door of Sam’s Club, hundreds of copies of “America by Heart” were neatly stacked and adorned with $15.88 stickers. Before I could pick up a book, a media wrangler had corralled me into the snack area with other reporters. Polite but jittery, she repeatedly informed us that absolutely no questions could be asked of Palin. If anyone dared ask, they would be escorted out by security. She was adamant.

An elderly man wearing a purple wristband sat down with the media and handed the wrangler two copies each of “Blue Collar Christianity” and “Actions of the Early Church” by James F. Holmes to give to Palin. The wrangler then escorted the first team of photographers back to Palin.

Ten minutes later, they emerged frustrated.

“You have to shoot through people standing in front of her,” one photographer said, describing the area as the size of a phone booth behind black curtains.

The wrangler gathered up my group and escorted us past electronics, gigantic gun safes and boxes of enormous Christmas balls. “No questions,” she reminded us, as if we could have forgotten. “Ten minutes is all you get. No questions.”

In a line against a wall, fans waited with anticipation. They obediently shed coats and hoodies and placed them alongside their cameras and cell phones in rubber bins for security men who acted more like TSA agents than Sam’s Club employees. No photos, no recordings of any kind. Period.

It was a vastly different scene than the one my WomanUp colleague, Joann Weiner, wrote about earlier in the day about former President Jimmy Carter’s book signing in Washington.

We entered through a small tunnel of black curtains and stood behind a red rope line. There was Palin — sitting at a long table with a stack of books — and her youngest daughter, Piper, standing next to her. An American flag hung behind her. The Christian books from the elderly man sat on a tall table in the corner. An oversized poster of Palin’s book jacket leaned against it.

Palin wore a shiny black jacket with sleeves edged in sequins and a rhinestone American flag pin on the lapel. The former vice-presidential candidate smiled like a star as she scribbled “Sarah” — no personal inscriptions — in books. She wore her hair in her trademark upsweep, and a rose lipstick glossed her lips. Her nails sported a perfect French manicure.

In contrast, Piper’s nails were bright red as she fanned a stack of bookmarks, which she never passed out. She wore a black coat and her hair was combed back in a ponytail. A man behind the media pen informed a fan that Willow, another Palin daughter, was in the back.

A woman standing at the end of the table quickly stormed over and informed us that reporters were not supposed to be there. But the wrangler said it was fine. “No questions,” the woman said. A few minutes later, she told us she was with HarperCollins, Palin’s publishing company, and not Sam’s Club.

Palin shook hands with each person and asked their names. She quickly kept the line moving with small talk and no mention of North Korea, WikiLeaks or Barbara Bush. Piper leaned in at one point and told her mother something in a bossy tone and pointed toward the back of the store. The little girl looked angry as Palin smiled at her.

A woman and her young daughter approached Palin and discussed home schooling. A little boy then shook Palin’s hand.

“Study hard and read a lot of history,” she told him.

Two 20-something women tried to contain their glee when they entered the small area. Smiles radiated across their faces. They shook Palin’s hand, and she asked the one wearing scrubs if she were a nurse.

Before she could answer, reporters had to exit the area. The nurse, Susie Parkes, quickly followed with her sister, Katie, also a nurse.

“We’re her No. 1 fans,” Susie Parkes said, clutching her signed book. “We love her values and what she stands for and what she has done for our country.”

Katie Parkes echoed her sister. “She is bringing back values we need in this country that we have somehow lost. She stands for family and working-class America.”

“She said we had good hearts because we’re nurses and thanked us for doing the jobs we’re doing,” Susie Parkes said.

On Wednesday, the sisters were upgrading their cable system for the sole reason of watching “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” on The Learning Channel. They said they would “absolutely” vote for her if she ran for president in 2012.

As I left, people were still standing in the cold and dark to meet Palin. At a busy intersection near Sam’s Club, one lonely protester stood holding a homemade sign that called Palin a quitter for resigning her Alaskan governor’s position. Palin’s handlers likely made sure she never saw the man.

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 10:48 pm