So why is a nonbinding 2011 straw poll a do-or-die event for Tim Pawlenty? Largely because he has failed to perform up to expectations to date.
Pawlenty was supposed to be the electable conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. Rick Perry is about to sweep in and take that mantle away from him. And large numbers of Republican primary voters seem to be less concerned about the "electable" modifer than the "conservative" one. Thus Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, and perhaps even Herman Cain have outperformed him.
What has kept Pawlenty from being written off entirely is that as a Midwestern Republican and an evangelical, he was expected to do well in Iowa. And he has arguably built the best campaign team there. Fairly or not, a poor showing at Ames would undermine donors' confidence that Pawlenty will do well in the caucuses, especially since Romney, Perry, and Sarah Palin won't be competing with him. Without the belief that he can do well in Iowa, there goes Pawlenty's path to the nomination -- and probably a number of his donors.
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