A few days after he hired a campaign manager and then announced the non-news that he would run in the Republican primary, Tim Pawlenty has hired veteran pollster Jon Lerner.
Lerner is based in Washington–and like Pawlenty, hails from Minnesota–but he has some interesting New York connections.
He worked on Doug Hoffman’s Tea Party campaign in New York’s 23rd District special election, managed Al D’Amato’s unsuccessful re-election bid against Chuck Schumer in 1998, and cites the legendary NewYork consultant Arthur Finkelstein as one of his mentors. The two met when Finkelstein–who helped George Pataki win an unlikely bid for governor–worked a Senate race in Minnesota in 1996.
“I think the world of him,” Lerner said of Finkelstein. “He’s a brilliant guy, probably the most brilliant guy in the business. He’s helped me a great deal and I’m tremendously grateful to him and enjoy the friendship I have with him.”
Neither of the above races went particularly well for Lerner. Hoffman got edged out in a wild special that saw the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava drop out and endorse the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, who eventually won with 49 percent of the vote, to Hoffman’s 45. (Scozzafava got 6 percent.)
D’Amato’s was equally strange. The incumbent senator stumbled when he called Schumer a “putzhead,” and the campaign seemed incapable of quelling the ensuing debate over the pejorative dimensions of such a vulgarity, as it dragged endlessly through the news cycle. What had been a close race became not so close, and D’Amato lost by 10 points. (In something of an irony, Lerner is himself an Orthodox Jew, and reportedly doesn’t work from sundown on Friday to sundown Saturdays, even in the throes of close campaigns.)
Lerner’s Tea Party connections could help Pawlenty make in-roads with that crowd. As an adviser to the Club for Growth, he helped–to varying degrees–with some of the more conservative candidates of the last cycle, including winners like Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, and some who lost, like Sharron Angle and Joe Miller.