ABC News' Teddy Davis, Gregory Wallace, Hope Ditto, and James Gerber Report:
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) said Wednesday that the GOP has been losing "market share" and argued that his party needs to broaden its appeal.
"We want to be the party of Sam’s Club, not just the country club," said Pawlenty. "People deserve and expect a more effective government at a better price."
In his appearance before the National Press Club, the Minnesota governor demonstrated why he is believed to be on McCain's short-list for V.P.: while he lacks Mitt Romney's ties to the mega-battleground state of Michigan, Pawlenty has a knack for encapsulating the Arizona senator's policies under the theme of delivering better "value" for middle-class families.
Consistent with McCain's support for redirecting $1 billion to digital education, Pawlenty touted on-line learning as a way to reduce the cost of higher education.
"Why would you drive from Stillwater, Minnesota, in January an hour in rush hour to get over to the University of Minnesota campus, park in a remote parking lot, strap on your back pack, haul across campus in challenging weather conditions, get into a lecture hall, unpack, sit in a chair and have a sometimes gifted -- sometimes not -- assistant professor, lecture you on Economics 101 when you can’t even pay for it?"
"Why would you not get out of bed, pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit on your sofa, and dial it up on digital storage from any university in the world?" he asked. "The marginal cost of educating a student in a class like that, once it’s up and running, is zero."
"For many of these classes," he emphasized, "we could cut the cost of higher education by 70, 80, or 90 percent."
On health care, Pawlenty did not advocate any specific reforms but echoed McCain in arguing that rising costs stem from consumers having "no knowledge of cost and quality".
On K-12 education, Pawlenty joined McCain in touting school choice.
He also echoed McCain in calling for changes to the ways in which teachers are certified and paid.
During the question-and-answer period, Pawlenty said that the nation needs to move away from its reliance on the gas tax for funding transportation infrastructure.
"We're going to have to be more creative," said Pawlenty. "Oregon has had a pilot project, I'm not sure what to think of it yet because the results aren't in, but they're charging by miles driven."
"It is preferentially priced," he added, "to encourage more hybrid and fuel efficient vehicles. . . . We'll keep an eye on that with the idea that the gas tax is going to be politically untenable" and of "diminishing" value as a tool of public policy.
Asked if the United States has made enough progress in Iraq to set a timetable for withdrawal, Pawlenty echoed McCain in supporting a conditions-based exit.
"I do not believe that setting arbitrary timelines for withdrawal would be wise in light of the fragile situation that exists in Iraq," said Pawlenty. "It has to be at a time and under circumstances where Iraq is stable enough to defend itself and govern itself and not fall back into chaos."
Asked what are the most important qualities in a vice presidential candidate, Pawlenty had a one-word answer: "discretion."