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GOP convention wrap: Karl Rove wows state Republicans

By Don Davis

and Scott Wente

St. Paul Capitol Bureau

ROCHESTER, Minn. - Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke. So did U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman. And congressional candidates went before state Republican convention delegates with speeches.

But it was GOP icon Karl Rove who drew the biggest response from delegates in their two-day state convention, which ended Saturday with Rove's pep-talk speech.

President Bush's long-time adviser, now a Fox News Channel commentator, delivered line after line Republicans loved. For instance: "There ought to be a limit on how much government we have."

Rove's harshest comments were reserved for Barack Obama, expected to be the Democratic presidential candidate. Rove said Obama's already-announced plans would result in the largest increase in government ever.

The Texan delivered a few Minnesota comments, like telling of the time the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate came up to him at a Washington dinner, announcing: "I'm Al Franken. I hate you and you hate me."

"That is not typical Minnesotan, is it?" Rove asked delegates.

And there was the time when he was with Bush and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. The president told her to "take off those stupid pink gloves."

Rove was hustled out of the Mayo Civic Center under far tighter security than anyone else, including the governor and senator.

Governor and friend

Gov. Tim Pawlenty pulled a Flair pen out of his pocket as he began his Saturday convention speech.

"I brought my friend with me today," he said, to an audience who knew and loved his reference to the famous "veto pen."

Pawlenty said he is proud to hold the modern-day record of vetoing the most bills. And he said he would do that any time Democrats who control the Legislature send him bills he does not like.

Sermons best lived

The governor, co-chairman of Sen. John McCain's national presidential campaign, told reporters he first met the former prisoner of war in the late 1980s, when he drove McCain around to Twin Cities' veterans' meetings.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty told delegates: "As to my friend John McCain, let me just say this: The best sermons in life are not preached, they are lived."

Peterson another Johnson?

Seventh Congressional District challenger Glen Menze told fellow Republicans there could be a surprise coming in the western Minnesota district.

Menze faces an uphill battle taking on veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, but he compared his race to one of the biggest 2006 Minnesota election upsets.

Two years ago, Republicans ousted Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, a Willmar Democrat, who Menze said was viewed as "untouchable."

"We retired Dean Johnson," Menze said to GOP activists' applause and cheers.

"That was not an easy race. It was a hard-fought race," Menze said. "It's what Republicans can do when they decide to work hard and they really want something."

"And that's what we need to do in the 7th district," he added.

Pawlenty campaigns

Gov. Tim Pawlenty missed the first day of the Republican convention to campaign in North Carolina.

"I was campaigning for a couple of congressional candidates," he said before speaking to the convention this morning.

Reagan, Day 2

State Republican convention Day 2, same verse as Day 1: Return to the Reagan days.

"I want us to go back to the playbook of Ronald Reagan," Gov. Tim Pawlenty told fellow Republicans this morning. "He was strong and positive and hopeful and optimistic."

Reagan's name was brought up time after time when Republicans began their state convention in Rochester on Friday.

The governor said Republicans have failed to get their message across. And with just 35 percent of Minnesotans considering themselves members of his party, the GOP must reach out to more conservative Democrats and independents who lean conservative, he added.

The 2006 election, which rebuffed many Republicans, should have been a lesson for the party, Pawlenty said. "It told us the electorate are selecting the products and services of our competitors."

In particular, Republicans must convince voters that they care about the working person, he said.