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Would Pawlenty have had a shot?

Some pundits have decided to play the “What If?” game with Tim Pawlenty — had he been able to stay in the presidental race, could he have proven to be the best alternative to Mitt Romney in the long run after more conservative candidates flame out?

Some pundits have decided to play the “What If?” game with Tim Pawlenty — had he been able to stay in the presidental race, could he have proven to be the best alternative to Mitt Romney in the long run after more conservative candidates flame out?

Jonah Goldberg kicked it off on Monday, suggesting Pawlenty blew “his entirely plausible shot at the presidency” by dropping out of the race:

Tactically, Pawlenty’s mistakes are too numerous to count. But strategically, Pawlenty had the right idea: Be the most electable candidate to the right of Romney. Because right now, electable is turning out to be a pretty high bar…

His problem stemmed from the fact that he’s a vanilla guy who thought he needed to convince conservatives he was a more exciting flavor. He should have waited, because vanilla may not be anyone’s first choice, but it’s almost everyone’s second choice.

The New Republic was next, asserting Pawlenty could easily have been the Romney-alternative many of the candidates have tried — and failed — to be. The American Prospect used polling data to show Pawlenty’s high positives and suggest, straight up, “He could be winning right now.”

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But the New York Times’ Nate Silver doesn’t buy it, noting that Pawlenty was never going to fill the anti-establishment role others have, including the new conservative favorite, Herman Cain. He also had flaws that would have prevented him from being a more traditional, establishment alternative to Romney, chief among them fundraising, and the fact that Romney is seen as already being the definitive establishment candidate.

The most recent Iowa Poll suggests voters there were never enamored with Pawlenty, even though they got a heavy dose of him during the July lead-up to the Iowa straw poll. If he had stayed in the race, he’d only have 5 percent support in the state.

Though that poll obviously precludes an extra two months of campaigning, it’s as good an indication as any that Pawlenty would have struggled to find a foothold when votes are finally cast.

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com