Like him or not, it is clear he is comfortable in his skin -- and almost disdainful of politicians who do not -- cannot -- relate to more ordinary folks.
"You have to have some fun and enjoy it along the way," Pawlenty told me.
To him, that means grabbing a scoop and an empty cone when posing with the workers at an Ohio dairy, or dropping to his knees to take a picture with two young girls, and quickly instructing them to use their fingers to make "rabbit ears" over his head.
Most people at such stops are local Republicans there at the party's request. Pawlenty made a point of spending a few minutes with the girls and their father.
"Look, politicians are too serious sometimes and not just in staged events," he told CNN. "But with real people like that gentleman -- he was a former Marine, a firefighter now out with his two young daughters today, he wasn't asked to come here. A real person doing real things, and it's nice to interact with them."
When it is suggested that Romney might not have been as loose and chatty, Pawlenty shrugged and said: "Well, everybody has a different style and different styles can work. If you study leadership and service throughout history, there's not one style that works for everybody. ... It's not a formula. It's part art and part science."
Pawlenty's critics call it mostly acting.
"Tim Pawlenty's record, and my experience here has proven, that Tim Pawlenty is frankly about Tim Pawlenty," R.T. Rybak, the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, said recently. "Tim Pawlenty hasn't shown the ability frankly to get anything done in government."
Pawlenty's former chief of staff, Charlie Weaver, takes issue and makes the case that adding Pawlenty to the ticket would give Romney a partner prepared for the big challenges in Washington.
"By the time he left, I think the average increase in state spending over his eight years was 1%," Weaver told CNN. "He consistently balanced the budget. And he dealt with a Democrat legislature for much of his term."
So the plus side?
• Blue-collar roots
• A Catholic-turned-evangelical Protestant comfortable talking about his faith.
• A GOP governor from a blue state who had to do business with Democrats.
• A record holding the line on government spending.
• No Washington baggage.
"He's interesting. He's funny. He is thoughtful and he is measured," Weaver said. "He is great with people. He is authentic. I think it's probably the best reason why he would be a terrific vice president."
And the downside?
• No Washington baggage also means no Washington experience, including on major national security issues.
• He never cracked 50% in either of his gubernatorial wins, and even his friends say it is doubtful picking Pawlenty would put Minnesota in play this fall.
• His 2012 presidential run sputtered quickly.
• Even some conservative fans say there is no signature Pawlenty achievement that would bring something unique to the ticket. The governor's Democratic critics say that is because his trademark is caution born of ambition.
"People thought he could be a breakthrough figure who could bring moderate voices and different sides together," Rybak said. "He got into office and became deeply partisan, unable to get much done, and in his case spent most of his time running for national office."
At a picnic table outside the dairy in Ohio, we ran through Rybak's long list of criticisms. Pawlenty's response?
"Well, Mayor Rybak is of course a spokesman for the Obama campaign so I would expect nothing less of him," Pawlenty said. "We brought spending down to historic levels, we cut taxes, we got performance pay for teachers, we did pension reform for public employees before it was cool and the popular thing to do, we moved toward consumer-based and market-based heath care instead of an Obama care-style approach and more. So to look at that and say we didn't do anything just isn't accurate."