The Republicans have another presidential candidate — former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. His formal campaign launch Monday in Des Moines, Iowa, comes after a lot of possible GOP candidates decided not to go for it — and that has many in the party grousing about their choices.
Pawlenty's announcement was no surprise. While other potential candidates have been coy or ambivalent, Pawlenty has been all-in for months, visiting the early states to lay the groundwork for a campaign.
In Des Moines, he attacked President Obama, saying the president hasn't told the truth and that his policies have failed. But Pawlenty also echoed the unifying message Obama used when he ran for president in 2008.
"No president deserves to win an election by dividing the American people — picking winners and losers, protecting his own party's spending and cutting only the other guy's programs," he said. "The truth is, we're all in this together. So we need to work together to get out of this mess."
No 'White Knight'?
Pawlenty opened his bid for the Republican nomination by promising to grow the economy, shrink the government, tell the truth and unite the country.
He said he's willing to say "no more bailouts" to Wall Street and tell Iowans that subsidies for ethanol have to be phased out. He came out in favor of raising the retirement age for Social Security and means-testing Medicare. But he balked at endorsing the plan by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to give seniors vouchers for health care.
The Democratic National Committee greeted Pawlenty's announcement with an ad about his record in Minnesota, saying he "eliminated the program that provides health care to 33,000 low-income residents" and that he "has systematically been cutting programs for the poor since he took office."
Pawlenty's announcement follows decisions by Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, John Thune and Mike Pence not to run.
Republican strategist Rick Wilson says many dissatisfied Republicans are looking for someone who doesn't exist. "The grumbling comes from the fact that people want perfection," he says. "They always want that white knight."
Wilson says no candidate fires up the social conservative base or unites the Republican establishment.
"The field is becoming set. I think there's still room in the next 30 to 45 days for a few other people to poke their nose into it. But I don't think there's a lot of interest from anyone that draws the Republican base out as a cheering horde at this point," he says.
Mitt Romney: The Front-Runner
Most of the dissatisfaction is focused on the candidate who is as close to a front-runner as the GOP has at the moment, Mitt Romney. Wilson says the former Massachusetts governor has charisma and good ideas, and a campaign infrastructure.
"But there's one glaring error, and that is he doubled down on the individual mandate on Romneycare. And Republican base voters know that Barack Obama will beat Mitt Romney's head in on that single issue, destroy the morale of the Republican base, and therefore win the election. That's why a lot of Republicans have dismissed Mitt Romney as a serious candidate," Wilson says.
Republican strategist Rich Galen, who used to work for Newt Gingrich, disagrees: "I'm not a Romney supporter by any stretch, but at this point, I think it's fair to say that Gov. Romney is the front-runner until somebody knocks him off."
Galen notes that earlier this month, Romney was able to raise $10 million in one day.
"That speaks volumes to the fact that a lot of people in the Republican Party — maybe not in the 150 people that talk about this stuff all day, but to a vast number of Republican primary voters — I think Gov. Romney is perfectly acceptable," Galen says. "And I think if he gets the nomination, he will be a difficult guy for Obama to beat."
That's hardly a consensus view among Republicans. The GOP presidential field may be set, but Republican voters are far from settled. And the desire is still strong for alternatives.
There are several fantasy candidates out there — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for example — but not a lot of time for any one of them to become a real-life contender.