AMES, Iowa (AP) — Trailing in polls and low on cash, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is betting the future of his presidential campaign on Iowa, where a late summer test vote could make or break him.

“We look to the Ames straw poll as a chance to show improvement,” Pawlenty said in an interview this week, acknowledging his lagging fortunes as he opened a 15-day Iowa campaign stretch a month before the state popularity contest that’s often a launch pad or cemetery for White House hopefuls. “We have to show some reasonable improvement at the straw poll, and then we’ve got to be in a position to win, or come close to it, in the caucuses.”

The Iowa Republican Party’s Aug. 13 straw poll has become Pawlenty’s sole focus six months before the state’s leadoff presidential caucuses, and for good reason.

By traditional measures, the low-key Midwesterner has little to show for his efforts to raise his profile and build a winning campaign since he first visited politically important Iowa in November 2009. He has the largest staff of any candidate for Iowa’s caucuses but registered support from just 6 percent of likely GOP caucus-goers in a recent Des Moines Register poll.

He acknowledged in the interview that this week begins a critical test for him in Iowa, where he’s supplementing his two-week visit with a new television ad and mailbox brochures all aimed at building support for the straw poll.

“You can’t really have an impact until you have a sustained concerted series of campaign activities, backed up by mail and media and that’s what we’re doing now,” he said.

But the pivotal month has not gotten off to a smooth start.

On Tuesday, Pawlenty’s campaign sought to grab headlines with the news that Sarah Huckabee, the daughter of the failed presidential contender and 2008 caucus winner Mike Huckabee, had signed on as an adviser. But that news was buried by a Florida jury’s innocent verdict in the trial of accused killer Casey Anthony.

Hours later, the University of New Hampshire released its latest poll of likely Republican primary voters. It showed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 35 percent of support in the first-in-the-nation primary state and Pawlenty with just 3 percent.

And by Wednesday, Pawlenty found himself having to denounce a top adviser’s comment that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s early rise in Iowa was due in part to her “sex appeal.” He had wanted to spend his first day of a sustained Iowa campaign stretch introducing a message stressing his record handling serious issues.

He hopes to right his campaign on Sunday in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Pawlenty, a two-term Republican governor of a Democratic-leaning state who was on 2008 GOP nominee John McCain’s short-list for the vice presidential slot, has spent the past year and a half working to establish himself as a top-tier candidate. He hired a staff of veteran presidential campaign operatives. He raised millions in support of other candidates. And he gave $2 million in 2010 to local politicians in early primary voting states, hoping to earn chits for his presidential run.

So far, he has little to show for it.

Last week, Pawlenty said he raised $4.2 million over the past three months, with only some of it available to him if he wins the nomination. It’s a paltry sum compared to Romney, the GOP front-runner who brought in more than $18 million, all of it for the primary.

And last month, he rolled out an economic policy at the University of Chicago only to be ridiculed by some from both parties for proposals critics said could not be taken seriously as a governing plan.

Among those critics was the liberal Center for American Progress, which said Pawlenty’s plan would cost $7.8 trillion over a decade.

Pawlenty found himself on the defensive over the plan the following week during a debate in which his own performance was widely panned.

Pawlenty had laid the groundwork in a news interview to assail Romney over the Massachusetts’ health care law that was a model for President Barack Obama’s nationwide one that conservatives despise. But Pawlenty hesitated to attack Romney during the debate, feeding into criticism that Pawlenty isn’t tough enough to be the nominee.

He later acknowledged a misstep, saying: “I should have been much more clear during the debate.”

The laid-back, soft-spoken Midwesterner also has been dogged by voter concerns that he isn’t gung-ho enough to take on Obama.

“The loudest guy or woman in the bar usually isn’t the toughest. They are usually just the loudest,” Pawlenty said during a question-and-answer session in Urbandale on Thursday when Republican Bill Campbell told the candidate he wished he would come across with more passion. “You don’t have to be a jerk to be strong. You can be nice and strong.”

Campbell, a retired postal worker, wasn’t entirely sold.

“He’s got so much substance, executive experience and political ability,” Campbell said after the event. “He needs to show the inner-strength he has. He just comes across as too nice.”

Still, Campbell said he was leaning toward supporting Pawlenty.

Pawlenty hoped to convince others to do the same in appearances across Iowa, where the Register poll showed Romney and Bachmann leading the pack.

He acknowledged that the straw poll was pivotal to boosting his standing but he argued that he doesn’t have to win it to show momentum.

It has reshaped previous Republican contests.

Four years ago, Huckabee used a surprising second-place in the straw poll to catapult his second-tier candidacy into the headlines while former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson was all but forced to abandon his bid after a poor showing. In 2000, a straw poll victory solidified as national front-runner then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush while ushering from the campaign former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander.

Pawlenty is keenly aware of the stakes, and hopes to emerge as the former not the latter.

His candidacy may just depend on it.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (48)
  1. jimmy says:

    The only Governor to leave office with a body count.

  2. fred says:

    the reason is simple – everyone has looked at his record in Minnesota…………

    1. Jake says:

      Actually, it’s simpler than that. He allowed himself to be considered boring, especially by late-night t.v. hosts. The personality candidate always wins, regardless of substance. See, e.g., Bachmann, Obama (“Yes, We Can!” Can what?), Ventura, Palin, Gopher from Love Boat.

      Pawlenty overcame his mundane presentation skills to be governor because he was running against two world-class snoozers – Roger Moe and Tim Penny. Seriously. Talk about three guys who could suck the fun out of a party.

      Pawlenty needs to start dropping the f-bomb and get caught in a hot tub with a Kardashian. That’s his only shot.

  3. Brian says:

    Finally!! T-Paw is starting to swirl the drain. I predict Bachmann is not far behind…

  4. jmh says:

    He’s a loser he destroyed MN. now he wants to destroy the world whats next

    1. Lundquist Parker Deb says:

      got that right

  5. Willy says:

    Leave Minnesota in huge debt, and he’s thinking he should be president.’
    I don’t think so..
    Go Away you has been!!!!!!

    1. Jake says:

      Pretty sure he never passed a budget by himself. Any spending bill during his term would have come from the Legislature, which was almost always controlled by the DFL.

      1. frozenrunner says:

        He did not veto the budget, either. When there was a revenue shortfall due to the downturn in the economy he shifted money rather than negotiate cuts or tax increases.. The last budget passed was from his numbers.

    2. Lundquist Parker Deb says:

      Far far away

  6. Justsayin says:

    Hmm, let’s see, he technically didn’t raise taxes but all those “fees” add up. He balanced the budget but only by kicking the can to the next governor and putting a large burden of education spending back onto local districts and governments that they weren’t expecting, he spent so much time NOT in Minnesota during his last term that people here don’t recognise him, he’s running hard right socially now but has all those nasty little center right comments to live down and basically comes across as another politician who’s desperate to get elected. Face it, he might be a nice guy in person or at home but he looks like a weaselly pol in public. Bye bye tpaw – better luck next time.

  7. Cry Me a River says:

    What a shame!, Short on cash! He bankrupted the state of Minnesota,Put us 6 Billion dollars in debt,after taking office with a surplus of money and he is crying.
    Maybe he feels half as bad as we taxpayers in MN. Because he has no feelings for the people.

    1. Who Will Timmy Blame This Time says:

      If he is running his campaign like he ran our state he’ll obviously be broke in no time.

    2. Lundquist Parker Deb says:

      True on him and his republican henchman who shut down the state. He is like the Emperor With No Clothes story…lol.. Completely clueless, arrogant, and smug…Oh wait, that is what i said about the Republican legislators who shut down the state..

  8. kennywilliams says:

    minnesotans have been paying wages for 2 yrs to a guy who has been busy doing nothing but looking for a better job. are we that stupid?

    1. Jake says:

      Might want to have a talk with your fact checkers, Kenny. Pawlenty hasn’t been Governor for a while, at least not officially.

      1. frozenrunner says:

        Subjective opinion was that Pawlenty was running for a higher office since he became governor. He made no secret in 08 of his desire to be vice president on the 08 ticket

  9. Murph says:

    Pawlenty of nothin,is still nothin! Yet Pawlenty still thinks he is gifted and great person! Mirror,mirror on the wall? He hasn’t even been asked about his district court conviction in December of 2009…… yet.What does he think that WILL do? He should pack up and move somewhere were he can see Russia from his igloo! His campaign is ice cold! He’s DONE!

  10. Reasonable says:

    He’s short on cash? Hmm, maybe he can just make the next candidate pay his bills?

    1. Recall says:

      He can start charging “fees” to those in his posse. Note to Mr. Plenty of nothin’: Bajeeze man, give it up! You’re embarrassing yourself.

  11. Deep Thinker says:

    Poor little weasel…….

  12. Jeanne says:

    Why am I not surprised to read T-Paw’s low on cash for his campaign? Perhaps it’s an indicator of just how lowsy his finanacial planning Skills are. “Borrow from Peter to pay Paul” will get ya every time – as ihe should have learned in Accounting 101.

  13. Patrick says:

    I knew he would face a rude awakening if he tried to go national but this is even more pathetic than I imagined. He was a sleazy governor and a disaster for the state of Minnesota. Good riddance Timmy two face.

  14. DFL = Dumb Fools Laughing says:

    OK..I agree…he and Bachman are not real “President” material…but you T-Paw bashers crack me up!

    Bottom line is he did a good job of Gov of MN….

    Look at the CLOWN you have in there now! Instead of bashing him, maybe consider the REAL reasons we are in the shut down! A DFL run state while T-Paw was in office.

    So keep bashing……while MN sits CLOSED!

    I promise you this….if T-Paw was the Gov (and I can promise you he would have won over Dayton!!) we would NOT have the issue of a shut down State Govt!

    1. Reasonable says:

      Although he did have a shutdown I guess that means he’d never have a shutdown? Confuscious say wha?

      Though I agree, T-Paw would now agree to the budget, then just unallot or simply not pay for things to make sure the budget was balanced! Brilliant!

      1. True..5 day old rice says:

        Hmmm…if I recall it was 5 days and he FINALLY gave in to the DFL’ers and had to charge “fee’s” (and trust me he took heat for that…..) to get things back on track……
        Gov Deer in the headlights isn’t that smart…..
        It wasn’t passing the buck… was hopes SPENDING would be inline by this time!
        MN does NOT have a taxing problem…MN has a SPENDING problem.

    2. Joe says:

      The reason the state is shut down is because of what T_Paw left to Dayton. A 6 billion dollar deficit!

    3. by by republicans in the next election says:

      Republicans what does the stand for real D**B A$$es… nothing wong with gove now he has to fix this god awful mess Tpaw did plain and simple.

  15. Bruce says:

    During Bill Clinton’s two terms as president, the median family income increased by 14 percent, the number of Americans in poverty declined by nearly 17 percent, and the number of children in poverty fell by almost one-fourth.

    1. Jake says:

      That was also the last Republican-controlled Congress, wasn’t it? Interesting.

      1. James2 says:

        Jake, that’s the last time the two parties agreed to negotiate and compromise. It’s been nothing but polarized since Clinton left offtice. Now, we get the final results of Newt’s Contract With America, the nobody agrees except with me mentality. Bye Timmy.

      2. jimmy says:

        “That was also the last Republican-controlled Congress, wasn’t it?”

        No the first 4 years of the Bush administration he had a republican House and Senate. He kept the house for another 2 years until 2007

  16. Don_J says:

    This is the person who should be blamed for Minnesota’s fiscal mess and the government shutdown… yet he wants us to believe he can fix our national problems… how many times has he been back to Minnesota since January?

    1. jimmy says:

      how many times has he been back to Minnesota since January?

      January of which year?

  17. Chubby says:

    Willy–I can’t agree with you more. Maybe this is why he didn’t run again. He
    had NO chance of winning a 3rd term and he knew it.

    Cry me a river–PAWlenty low on cash??? Yeah, right. That jerk has more
    money then he knows what to do with. Low on cash–what a bald face

    Patrick–I LOVE your comment about Timmy two face.

  18. the crux od the buscuit says:

    What a hoot, Pawlenty, the smart one gets squeezed out while Bachmann the dumb one soldiers on……

  19. bet says:

    ha, ha finally the rest of them are seeing exactly what he is a loser, maybe he should comeback to Mn and face the music, but he is probably better staying in Iowa for now.

  20. A Voter says:

    Hold your breath Tim, hold your breath.

  21. Deep Thinker says:

    Not many positive thoughts in here about Timmy, that should tell you all you need to know about this clown. Remember when he said he would never listen to Bruce Springsteen again because Springsteen is a democrat backer….lol…Timmy just go away….you petty small minded dimwit

  22. Arne says:

    No thank you Timmy…we’ve had Pawlenty!!!!!

  23. ten feet says:

    Fee = tax smoking ban seat belt laws jobz zzzzzzzz zone Tim Palefty no thanks

  24. Bill says:

    Even his lieutenant governor said he was an A-Hole, His way or the Highway!

  25. Carl says:

    Pack it in T-Paw. You’ve ruined one state leave the nation alone.

  26. bubba136 says:

    An idiot and his advisors, LOL all the high priced talent in the world wont do him any good

  27. Buh By says:

    He’s a RINO and we don’t need no stinkin’ RINOs!

    Especially ones that buy into the global warming hoax.

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