With Mpls. fundraiser tonight, Pawlenty's campaign enters crucial phase

Tim Pawlenty
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks to reporters following a Tea Party tax day rally in an April 15, 2011 file photo taken outside the Statehouse in Concord, New Hampshire. Pawlenty is considering a 2012 run for President.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Several hundred people are expected Wednesday evening at a Minneapolis fundraiser for former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's exploratory presidential campaign.

The Pawlenty campaign is calling the gathering a "kick off" fundraiser that will soon be followed by an official campaign launch.

Political observers say Pawlenty's fundraising success between now and the end of June is critical to his presidential ambitions.

A SMALLER FIELD

The large field of possible 2012 Republican presidential candidates has gotten smaller recently. Real estate mogul and showman Donald Trump is no longer toying with a White House bid. More importantly, former Arkansas governor and social conservative favorite Mike Huckabee announced he's not running, as did Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the former chair of the Republican National Committee who has close ties to big GOP contributors.

Pawlenty 2012 spokesman Alex Conant said as the field shrinks, Pawlenty's prospects grow.

"We've seen people who were Huckabee supporters and were Barbour supporters come over to our team after those candidates decided not to run, and we're working to win over all of their supporters," Conant said.

Pawlenty is also hoping their financial supporters in particular will now back him.

A VITAL TIME

Political analysts say now is a critical time for Pawlenty's fundraising.

"For Tim Pawlenty to be a serious contender for the Republican nomination he's going to have to do very well in his first major quarter since he's had his committee announced," said University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs.

In other words, in early July when the quarterly fundraising reports are made public, Jacobs said Pawlenty needs to put up some big numbers: somewhere between $8 million and $15 million.

"We're not going to raise as much money as other people who are running, but we will raise enough to be competitive."

"That will be a sign that he's, in fact, a contender," Jacobs said. "It will also be a signal to other donors who may be sitting on the sidelines that he's worth the investment and it will be a signal to his volunteers and the key people working in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and the other states [that] Tim Pawlenty is a guy worth sticking with."

Pawlenty staffers won't say how much money they expect to raise Wednesday. They will say the Minneapolis event will be their biggest fundraiser of the quarter and that many of the several hundred people attending will be contributing the maximum allowable amount of $2,500.

In addition to going after big donors, Pawlenty is also seeking relatively small contributions of $25 to $30.

Pawlenty's telemarketing pitches tout his "skills, drive and experience" and say political analysts rank him as a top Republican contender.

CAMPAIGN DOWNPLAYS EXPECTATIONS

Earlier this week, former Massachusetts Gov. Romney raised more than $10 million in a single day telethon. In the face of that, the Pawlenty campaign is downplaying expectations about its fundraising.

"We're not going to raise as much money as other people who are running, but we will raise enough to be competitive," said Conant, Pawlenty's spokesman.

Jennifer Duffy from the Cook Political Report said no one is expecting Pawlenty or any of the other GOP candidates to beat Romney in the money race. Duffy said when the numbers come out, the candidates will be compared to each other and Pawlenty needs to be in the top tier.

"I really think the measurement is probably coming in second, maybe even third, but definitely holding his own in the field," Duffy said.

The Pawlenty campaign said its formal 2012 launch will come soon. The other Minnesotan in the presidential politics mix, Rep. Michele Bachmann, had been saying she would likely make a decision on a run sometime in June. Bachmann is now saying her announcement could come within the next couple of weeks.

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