By Reid Wilson - 10/23/09 12:45 AM EDT
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) did not offer support for the
Republican candidate running in a special election in New York's 23rd
Pawlenty, speaking to reporters after his political action committee held its first fundraiser, said he did not know enough about the candidates to make an endorsement, and that he had not been following the race. Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R) is facing a challenge from the right in Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. Attorney Bill Owens is the Democratic candidate.
Conservative organizations like the American Conservative Union, the Club for Growth and pro-life groups are backing Hoffman, while the National Rifle Association and the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership are backing Scozzafava.
One of Pawlenty's potential rivals, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), endorsed Hoffman on Thursday. Another possible presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), has endorsed Scozzafava.
Pawlenty was in Washington to kick off his new committee, the Freedom First PAC. He spoke to a crowd of hundreds at a brewing company just off Capitol Hill. The largely younger crowd included Republican congressional staffers and the various party organizations.
Though he maintains he is not an active candidate for president yet, Pawlenty said he was encouraged by the turnout, especially by the younger faces in the room.
And Pawlenty, who has been raising his profile with speeches to key conservative organizations, is making an impression, at least among his home-state fans. Ex-Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) was a host of the event, where Reps. John Kline and Eric Paulsen, two of the three GOP members from Minnesota, stopped by to show support.
"He is positioning himself very well," Kline told reporters before the event began. "I'm very excited that he's in the race, and certainly from my perspective he's the front-runner."
Pawlenty laid out a brief platform, criticizing the Obama administration for excess spending and overreaching on healthcare. And he urged attendees to help Republicans out in New Jersey and Virginia, where the party has a chance to pick up governorships in November.
Pawlenty predicted former Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell (R) would pull off a win, while he was less certain about former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie's (R) chances in New Jersey. Pawlenty called New Jersey a dead heat between Christie and Gov. Jon Corzine (D).