With less than seven weeks to go before the presidential election, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is leaving his job as co-chairman of the Mitt Romney campaign to take a top Washington lobbying job.
Pawlenty, 51, will become the next CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, whose 100 members include many of the nation's largest banks and insurance and securities companies.
The Minnesotan, whose own candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination faded early, had served as co-chairman of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, but said he is leaving that role because his new post doesn't allow him to be partisan.
The Romney campaign issued a news release Thursday with statements from both Romney and Pawlenty:
PAWLENTY: "... My new position as CEO of The Financial Services Roundtable does not allow me to participate in partisan campaign activities. For that reason, I am stepping down from my position as co-chair of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. My work with Mitt has been a privilege. Mitt Romney is a truly good man and great leader. As the campaign moves into the home stretch, he has my full support and continued faith in his vision and his policies."
And from Romney:
"Tim Pawlenty is a dear friend. ... He's brought energy, intelligence and tireless dedication to every enterprise in which he's ever been engaged, and that certainly includes my presidential campaign. While I regret he cannot continue as co-chair of my campaign, his new position advancing the integrity of our financial system is vital to the future of our country. I congratulate him on his new position and wish him every success in carrying out his new mission."
Coming as it does with Romney's campaign buffeted by a series of bad tidings, from the emergence of the candidate's notorious "47 percent" comment to polls showing him trailing President Obama in battleground states, there was immediate suspicion in some parts that Pawlenty might be voting with his feet.
Jeffrey Sachs, the noted Columbia University economist, tweeted:
"What a joke! Romney campaign co-chair quits for lobbying! Aside from bailing ship, exposes the systemic corruption."
But as scientists are fond of saying, correlation isn't always causation. Sometimes the timing when jobs come open is what it is.
And what a job this is! Its current holder, former Republican Rep. Steve Bartlett, is reportedly paid about $2 million a year.
Pawlenty — who also had been on Romney's short list of potential running mates — is an interesting choice because he doesn't have the typical Washington pedigree usually associated with such jobs. He never served in Congress or in an administration.
Rob Blackwell, Washington editor of American Banker, has tweeted that the FSR has wanted to increase its profile in the nation's capital. The American Bankers Association has been perceived as casting a longer shadow in Washington, apparently. Blackwell cautioned against reading too much into the announcement:
"I'm not trying to downplay the Roundtable, but let's not go nuts either. This is a bid to increase its standing."
"By the way, the Roundtable has trumped the ABA here with the Pawlenty pick. ABA hired former OK gov Frank Keating two years ago."