MINNEAPOLIS - The message is pounded home time and again. It's all coming down to Ohio.
"Your state obviously is going to go a long ways toward determining whether John McCain is going to be president or not," Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told about 170 Ohio delegates and alternates at the scaled-back Republican National Convention.
"We need you more than ever," he said. "I know every cycle somebody comes to Ohio and says it's all coming down to you, but it is. I hope you can go to that well one more time."
Battleground Ohio and its 20 electoral votes narrowly put George W. Bush over the top in 2004 for another four years in the White House. Its importance is emphasized with the delegation's seating front and center on the floor of the Xcel Energy Center in nearby St. Paul in front of where Mr. McCain would accept the party's nomination on Thursday night, Hurricane Gustav permitting.
But Mr. Pawlenty, a second-term governor passed over by Mr. McCain for the vice presidential slot in favor of surprise pick Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has his hands full turning his home state from blue to red for Mr. McCain on Nov. 4.
"Minnesota is the land of [Hubert] Humphrey and [Walter] Mondale and [Paul] Wellstone and [Eugene] McCarthy," he told reporters after the delegation's breakfast meeting. "It's historically a pretty liberal state, but in more recent years we've been able to make it more politically competitive.
"Democrats still have an advantage here, but it's not so large that it can't be overcome with the right candidate," he said. "Somebody like Senator McCain could win here because he's independent-minded, does well with independents and ticket-splitters and the like. He's also somebody who's a straight-talker. Midwesterners like that."
Mr. Pawlenty narrowly survived re-election himself in 2006, winning by 1 percentage point during a strong Democratic year. Running as a fiscal conservative, he was hampered by unpopular budget cuts and increased fees enacted to deal with budget deficits.
The state and its 10 electoral votes narrowly went to Democrat John Kerry in 2004, and is one of the battleground states for this election, one of the reasons Mr. Pawlenty was considered for the No. 2 spot on the ticket.
Addressing the perception that Mr. McCain occasionally exhibits a temper, Mr. Pawlenty insisted the Arizona senator has the maturity and temperament to be president.
"Does he get passionate about things from time to time? Does he get upset about things? Yes, that's for sure," he said. "But we have seen how he has conducted himself in recent years and we haven't seen any of that."
The Ohio delegation is expected to hear this week from Republican strategist and Bush adviser Karl Rove, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and conservative radio and TV talk-show host Sean Hannity.
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