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It's not Pawlenty, it's Palin

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ST. PAUL - Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will not be John McCain's running mate.

Instead, it appeared Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be the pick.

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National media began to report at mid-morning McCain picked the 44-year-old Alaskan would be introduced at an 11 a.m. speech in Dayton, Ohio.

Palin is the first and youngest governor of Alaska, but had only been mentioned as a dark horse running mate possibility.

Like Palin, most Americans had not heard of Pawlenty. But the Minnesota governor's name became more and more mentioned as a possible running mate.

"I am just honored to be considered and I am honored to be governor of the great state of Minnesota," he said this morning during his weekly radio show at the Minnesota State Fair.

McCain announces his vice presidential candidate this morning in Dayton, Ohio. Early today, Pawlenty said he would not be the one.

Instead, he hosted his radio show, interviewing, among others, a hog expert and a State Fair food judge.

His comments end more than two years of speculation that he would run with his long-time friend, the Arizona senator who next week Republicans meeting in St. Paul will nominate as their candidate.

In an early-morning WCCO radio interview, Pawlenty called the intense vice presidential speculation "a distraction" in Minnesota.

"I'm just happy to support Sen. McCain," the governor said.

Pawlenty never had admitted he was one of the potential running mates, but on his radio show he came close.

"Yesterday was a busy day," said Pawlenty, who was in Denver for the McCain campaign. "Of course, we learned that Sen. McCain made his nomination for vice president yesterday. I am just delighted I can be a supporter of his."

State Fair visitors - including many reporters -- crowded around the radio booth at the beginning of the governor's show.

As he approached the radio booth, a woman told him: "I'm glad you are staying." He laughed.

About two-thirds of the crowd left after he answered a question about the vice presidential situation.

Before heading to the fair, reporters staked out his official home in St. Paul and personal home in Eagan Thursday night and this morning. That came after Minnesota reporters for months have hounded him for any information on his vice presidential prospects, joined in recent weeks by national media.

There is one good thing about the end of that intense observation.

"I'm glad you guys will quit following me around so much," Pawlenty said in the WCCO interview.

McCain often has said Pawlenty will be a key to the Republican Party's future. Others agree.

Minnesota GOP Chairman Ron Carey called Pawlenty a "two thumbs up" type of leader for the party. Most Minnesotans are disappointed McCain did not pick Pawlenty, Carey added.

"You would love to see Gov. Pawlenty on the ticket from a Minnesota pride standpoint," he said.

However, Carey looked toward the future.

"He's well positioned for long-term leadership in the Republican Party," Carey said. "He has a very bright future."

Speculation escalated that Pawlenty was the pick on Thursday afternoon when he abruptly canceled several interviews in Denver, where he was talking up McCain's campaign as the Democratic National Convention ended. At one point, he even told reporters that his background is stronger than that of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Pawlenty said Obama is not qualified to be president. But most reporters' questions centered on the vice presidential situation; he avoided answering them.

Pawlenty said that Obama's state legislative and brief U.S. Senate background do not qualify him to be president.

"I would note I have been a governor for six years, commander in chief of the Minnesota National Guard for six years and before that I was the majority leader of the Minnesota Legislature," Pawlenty said, fueling speculation that he was in the race.

Pawlenty is a national co-chairman of the McCain campaign. Their close relationship is one of the reasons Pawlenty had been considered a top vice presidential contender.

Pawlenty remained loyal to McCain even when his presidential campaign was faltering. McCain, who turns 72 today, often praises Pawlenty as the future of the Republican Party.

Pawlenty's loyalty to McCain - a trait the presidential candidate treasures - is one reason political observers thought the governor had a good shot at being a vice presidential candidate.

Take, for instance, how he showed loyalty to his president.

It was April 18, 2001, when Pawlenty planned to announce he was running for the U.S. Senate, against fellow Republican Norm Coleman, then St. Paul mayor. The night before, Pawlenty received a telephone call from a top Bush White House official - on behalf of President Bush - urging him to stay out of the race, giving Coleman a clear shot at the nomination to battle then-Sen. Paul Wellstone in the fall of 2002.

On the morning of his announcement, Pawlenty was taking his daughters home from a dental appointment when his mobile telephone rang. It was Vice President Dick Cheney, repeating the request to stand down.

So when it came time for Pawlenty to step in front of reporters, he said that he would not run for the Senate.

The then-Eagan lawmaker said Cheney made no promises when he asked Pawlenty to not run. But a few months later when Pawlenty's campaign for governor asked White House officials for help, they offered Cheney. A fundraiser delivered $250,000.

Since then, Cheney and President Bush have said many good things about Pawlenty - and he about them - but the governor's real loyalty is to McCain.

Even in the McCain campaign's lowest days, when it looked like he might be forced out of the race due to lack of money and a stumbling organization, Pawlenty stood behind him.

Political pundits said Pawlenty would have been a safe selection for McCain because he is a conservative, and would have few problems among fellow Republicans. However, polls were mixed on whether he could even help carry Minnesota for McCain.

Ironically, one of the complaints about Pawlenty is the same one McCain's campaign uses about Obama - he is too inexperienced.

In recent months, he has been a regular on national television news programs touting McCain's candidacy, at times even talking about foreign policy. He has become a favorite speaker at Republican groups nationwide, and now is an up-and-coming GOP fundraiser.

When he announced his second governor campaign in May of 2006, reporters pressed him hard whether he would commit himself to remaining in office the full four years of his second term, citing rumors even then that he would be McCain's running mate. While at first he would not issue that firm commitment, after three questions on the subject he eventually promised to serve out the term.

Earlier this summer, he showed agitation when Minnesota reporters asked him about the subject, but usually delivered a line like: "I'm happy with my day job." He showed no such anger when national reporters asked him the same question.

Then, on July 24, Pawlenty regained his cheerful nature. But he refused to talk about the vice presidential situation.

"You're kind to ask, but I have just stopped engaging in that discussion because it just feeds more speculation," Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty also declined to say whether he plans to serve out the rest of his term as governor, a change for him. "I'm not going to engage in the (vice presidential) discussion any more until that is decided."

Now, it has been decided.

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