Pawlenty, the Presidential Campaign, and the Evangelicals

People close to former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty have announced that he has formed a Presidential exploration committee.

Gov. Pawlenty made a comment not too long ago that if people thought he was pro-Israel, they should meet his wife, Mary.  I read his book and found several examples that show his own personal support for the America-Israel relationship.  But I was curious to delve a bit further into the issue, especially because of his reference to his wife.  Pawlenty has been early among possible GOP contenders in expressing strong criticism of Barack Obama's approach towards Israel.  There are reasons this may be so that do not involve politicking.

Mary Pawlenty is an evangelical Christian and her husband joined her church in the mid-1980s when they married.  The evangelical Christian community are strong supporters of the America-Israel relationship for a wide variety of reasons (having nothing to do with end-time scenarios).

But the church they attend, Wooddale Church, is not your just-down the road church.  Wooddale is an influential evangelical mega church. The Pawlentys were married by Leith Anderson,  a senior pastor at the church since 1977. However, Anderson is far more than a senior pastor. He is also the long-time president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), an organization that represents more than 30 million American evangelicals.

As noted by Andy Birkley in the Minnesota Independent:

Pawlenty and Anderson's close relationship both politically and personally will signal to 30 million evangelicals that Pawlenty is one of them. And the groundwork for that vast network has already been laid. Pawlenty's already met and spoke with a large number of evangelical leaders.

Wooddale has also hosted national meetings of evangelical leaders in the past.

Clearly, Pawlenty's ties to the important evangelical community with hold him in good stead  when it comes to the early primary in Iowa (he may already have a leg up there due to the proximity of Minnesota).  This factor may blunt the edge that Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee  have with this community.  His ties to the leadership of the NAE will give his campaign a boost among the evangelical community across America.  Mitch Daniels already has weakened his political poll position with evangelicals because of his call for a "truce" on social issues and his general downplaying of cultural values and concerns.

Pawlenty has downplayed his evangelical ties as Governor but has instituted policies and programs in Minnesota that would gladden the hearts of many evangelicals.  The major media may remain oblivious to this history but undoubtedly the evangelical community is aware of them; if not, they soon will be.

Given Pawlenty's strong support for Israel in the past, his evangelical background and ties to the national leadership of evangelicals, one would not be surprised to witness a sharpening of Pawlenty's criticism over Barack Obama's treatment of Israel.  Pawlenty will also have a reservoir of support from millions of evangelicals across the nation.