Why Pawlenty's campaign didn't catch fire

Pawlenty wipes his brow
Tim Pawlenty answers questions after speaking at the Cato Institute on May 25, 2011, in Washington, D.C. He announced on Sunday that he is dropping out of the race for president.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Tim Pawlenty supporters say the former Minnesota governor would have made a good president and they're disappointed he had to end his campaign.

Pawlenty dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination for president Sunday morning, following his disappointing third place showing in the Ames Straw Poll over the weekend.

Pawlenty announced his decision early Sunday morning on a conference call with high-level supporters. Clifford Hurst, a member of Pawlenty's New Hampshire steering committeee, was on the call.

"He just saw that the campaign wasn't being effective and he didn't see resources coming," Hurst said Pawlenty told the callers. "It's better to end it now, on a positive note."

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Hurst has backed Pawlenty's presidential ambitions since 2009 and served on Pawlenty's New Hampshire steering committee. He said the news that Pawlenty was out came as a surprise and a disappointment, although Pawlenty acted with class in withdrawing the way he did.

"I never believed in any candidate more than I believe in Tim Pawlenty, both in his character and his experience as governor of Minnesota," said Hurst. "I thought he would be a very effective president."

Tim Pawlenty announces candidacy
Tim Pawlenty announced that he is running for U.S. President at the State Historical Building May 23, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa. He announced on Sunday that he was dropping out of the race.
Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images

Following that call to supporters, Pawlenty appeared on ABC News' This Week program, where he made it clear his poor showing in the Ames Straw Poll signaled to him that his campaign was just not taking off.

"What I brought forward I thought was a rational, established, credible, strong record of results based on experience as a two-term governor who was out of a blue state," said Pawlenty. "But I think the audience, so to speak, was looking for something different."

Perhaps they were looking for someone more like U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, also of Minnesota, who won the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday. Her campaign has taken off since she entered the race during a debate in mid-June in New Hampshire.

The same debate that launched Bachmann left Pawlenty battered for his high-profile botch in failing to follow through with criticism of Mitt Romney over the issue of government-mandated health insurance.

One of Pawlenty's problems was that he tried to be all things to all Republicans, said political scientist Dennis Goldford of Drake University.

Tim Pawlenty
Republican Tim Pawlenty speaks at the AFP RightOnline Conference in Minneapolis on Saturday, June 18, 2011.
Hannah Foslien/AP

"At first he seemed to try to come across as a mainstream establishment candidate that was more conservative than Mitt Romney," said Goldford. "Since January or February of this year he started emphasizing themes that were much more in line with the tea party and religious conservatives, he sounded more of those populist themes."

And when the populist rhetoric didn't work when competing with Bachmann, Goldford said, Pawlenty went full circle back to his position as an establishment candidate.

Coverage of the Republican nomination battle had been focused on the sparring between the two Minnesota candidates. But Bachmann told MPR News Sunday afternoon that she spoke with Pawlenty earlier in the day, and the tone was cordial.

"We had a very lovely conversation," said Bachmann. "I wished him well and he did likewise, and he was very complimentary of me as I was of him."

Goldford, the political scientist, said with Texas Gov. Rick Perry now in the race for the GOP nomination, Bachmann has new competition for support from tea party members and the social conservative wing of the Republican Party.

But Bachmann said Pawlenty's exit and Perry's entrance will not change her strategy.

"I'll be continuing to conduct this campaign the same that I have, bringing this message forward one voter at a time, one county at a time, one state at a time," she said.

With an emphasis, Bachmann said, on Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.