WASHINGTON Republican Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said on Monday he will decide early next year whether to run for president in 2012 and that at this point he believes Democratic President Barack Obama is beatable.
In an interview, Pawlenty said he is spending the rest of this year serving out his second term as governor and helping elect Republicans to the U.S. Congress and as state governors in November 2 elections.
"Then I will make a decision about my future early next year, 2011," said Pawlenty. "Whether that includes running for national office or not remains to be seen. But it's something I'm open to, but I don't know for sure what I'm going to do."
Pawlenty was on Republican John McCain's short list of candidates to be the vice presidential nominee in 2008. That position ultimately went to Sarah Palin for a ticket that Obama defeated.
Pawlenty, 49, said his 2012 decision would not hinge on whether Palin or former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney decide to make a presidential run. Both are keeping the door open.
Pawlenty, who has already traveled to the early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa to test the waters, said voters are telling him they are concerned about the weak U.S. economy, high jobless rate and government spending.
The November elections are likely to serve as a referendum on the leadership of Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress, he said.
"I think the country is going to send the president and congressional leaders a message that's going to basically say, 'this isn't what we bargained for in the '08 elections, you've overplayed your hand and now we're going to recalibrate this and bring some balances back to the system so that you can't be a runaway liberal train,'" Pawlenty said.
Political analysts believe Republicans are poised to make gains in the November elections, possibly winning the House of Representatives and picking up seats in the Senate.
Is Obama beatable, if he runs for re-election in 2012 as expected?
"That remains to be seen," Pawlenty. "At the moment, it wouldn't look that difficult. He's kind of beating himself. But a lot can happen in two and a half years in politics."
"And anybody who says they know what it's going to look like or what's going to happen in 2012 I think is being presumptuous. But at the moment he does not look that strong from a re-election standpoint," he said.
Obama's job approval rating is between 45 and 50 percent and he gets lackluster ratings for his handling of the economy. Analysts believe a surge in job growth would help his re-election.
Pawlenty, just back from visiting U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, criticized the Obama administration's July 2011 date for beginning a troop withdrawal, saying it can lead to "corrosive consequences on the ground."
"If you signal that we're not going to be there or begin to leave on a date in the not-too-distant future, all sorts of people and entities begin to hedge their bets," he said.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)