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Pawlenty cuts off chatter about VP chances

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - Gov. Tim Pawlenty went to a gas station Thursday to tout presidential candidate John McCain's energy policy, but what he refused to say will fuel more talk of another kind.

Facing growing speculation by national political observers that he is among a few Republicans McCain is considering for a running mate, Pawlenty said he is done talking about the issue.

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

That likely only will continue after Pawlenty, who is national co-chairman of McCain's campaign, refused to say whether he is being considered for the vice presidential post - a change from when he told reporters earlier this month he was not being vetted.

Pawlenty also declined to say whether he plans to serve out the rest of his term as governor. He previously said he intended to complete his second four-year term -- after he pledged during his re-election campaign he would fulfill his term.

"I'm not going to engage in the (vice presidential) discussion anymore until that is decided," he responded Thursday as reporters peppered him with myriad questions about the issue.

Pawlenty's stock as a potential vice presidential pick for the Arizona senator may have risen in recent days.

Earlier this week McCain reportedly told a New Hampshire audience they are "really going to like" Pawlenty. During a trip to Washington for an education-related conference, Pawlenty ducked into McCain campaign headquarters. He said he was there only for an hour to conduct two interviews on behalf of McCain.

The governor did say, however, his stepped-up efforts for McCain's campaign are not taking away from his work in St. Paul.

"Candidly, this time of year the governor's job - it's manageable," he said. "I've got it under control."

Pawlenty said in recent days he worked on his budget plan and policy proposals for the 2009 legislative session, dealt with National Guard issues and met with officials to discuss security at the Republican National Convention.

Some are unconvinced. State DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez gave Pawlenty low marks for his ability to serve as governor while campaigning for McCain.

"I believe that he's been very successful in sucking up to John McCain," Melendez said.

Pawlenty went to Bobby and Steve's Auto World in suburban Minneapolis to promote McCain's energy proposals, including expanded oil drilling, new nuclear plant construction and a federal gas-tax holiday. The governor said the state would not lose out if the federal tax was suspended and Minnesotans could benefit from that type of relief.

Democrat Barack Obama opposes the gas-tax holiday proposal. Obama campaign state director Jeff Blodgett said Pawlenty was embracing a plan that could cost the state millions in transportation funds and thousands of jobs.

"It really means no relief for people and a lot of pain for the state," he said.