Tim Pawlenty says a third-place finish in Ames is fine -- as long as the candidates who finish ahead of him aren't viable.
According to Bloomberg News, Pawlenty said, ""It depends who the other two spots are. How close it is. If the other two, if you're viewed not, in the long term, credible national candidates, then that's less significant than if they are." Who might these less than credible candidates be? "There's a lot of uniqueness to the straw poll that gives some advantage to candidates like Ron Paul or Michele Bachmann," Pawlenty told reporters. "But within that, we're going to do well."
There are two small problems with Pawlenty's contention. One is that most observers believe Pawlenty actually has a better ground operation in Iowa than Bachmann, even if the Minnesota congresswoman is currently more popular with potential caucus-goers. Second, the types of straw polls that Paul has traditionally done best at are ones where he can bring his national following along rather than turning out voters in a single state. So it would be somewhat significant if Pawlenty finished behind Bachmann and Paul.
But it does point to a potential plan B for Pawlenty, who had been banking on a strong showing in Iowa to make him the main alternative to Mitt Romney: if Romney is bloodied by a candidate who is perceived as unable to win either the nomination or the general election, Pawlenty can present himself as a viable choice. (This also seems to be Jon Huntsman's plan A through Z.) Though if Rick Perry does get in, the space for Pawlenty becomes even more constricted.
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