Somewhere between 6 p.m. Saturday and his morning announcement of the end of his presidential campaign, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty must have had a very sobering conversation.
Pawlenty had been trying to find a silver lining in his third-place finish, far behind Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, in Saturday’s Iowa straw poll.
His first comment — a very brief congratulatory tweet: “Congrats to Rep. Bachmann on win. Our campaign needed to show progress and we did. I’m eager for the campaign ahead.”
That was followed by an e-mail message to his supporters.
“As I said all along we needed to show progress to do well and we did just that,” Pawlenty wrote. “This is a long process to restore America, but we are just beginning and I’m eager for the campaign.”
A morning announcement
Then came the announcement this morning.
“We need to get some lift to continue on and have a pathway forward,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“That didn’t happening, so I’m announcing this morning on your show that I’m going to be ending my campaign for president.”
Just like that, it’s over.
Did Pawlenty reach this decision on his own? Or, did one of the old pros he’d surrounded himself with let him know that there was no chance, given that the competitors are only going to get stronger and that the money needs are going to get far greater?
Or did the family, as a unit, decide, “Enough”?
On one level, it was obvious in Ames that Pawlenty and some of those closest to him were preparing for a disappointing straw poll.
After Thursday night’s debate, Nick Ayers, a spokesman for the campaign, had reminded reporters that the campaign of John McCain, the eventual Republican presidential nominee in 2008, had been declared dead.
“His campaign imploded,” Ayers said. “No staff, no money everybody counted him out.”
Pawlenty would keep going, Ayers had said, no matter the results of the straw poll.
Talk of marathon and long view
Lou Hutchinson, a Pawlenty friend and supporter who had come to Ames from Denver to lend a hand, also had talked about the long view.
“I honestly believe these things are marathons,” said Hutchinson, before the straw poll voting had ended. “It’s good that Tim’s run a marathon. He knows how hard and long it can be. But he’ll hang in there, and we’re committed to hanging in there with him.”
Pawlenty did throw everything into Iowa, including, on Saturday, his family. Mary Pawlenty was urging people to vote for her husband. The couple’s two daughters, who seldom were seen in public events when Pawlenty was governor, were out there, too.
The straw poll showing was bad, but still it’s surprising that Pawlenty decided so quickly to toss in the towel.
Hanging in there has been part of the Pawlenty political profile. As is the case of any successful politician, he’s had a heavy dose of luck in the past, too.
Some of his friends had believed that resiliency would pay off for Pawlenty in the end.
Although he’s taken no formal position on any of the Republican candidates, Minnesota Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton had said days before the straw poll that the results shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
“Let the process play out,” Sutton had said.
Let it play out because a window might open.
For a few weeks, there will be a sudden embracing of Rick Perry by many Republicans, although it’s hard to know how long that will last.
Mitt Romney wears on many of the party faithful. They’ve seen the act before. There’s also some resentment of his silver-spoon background.
Jim McGee, a retired Iowan who was wearing a Pawlenty green T-shirt at the straw poll, explained one of the reasons he liked the Minnesotan.
“They always say you get the best politicians money can buy,” said McGee. “Well, Romney’s got the money. I like it that Pawlenty doesn’t come from that sort of background.”
Waiting for an opening
So again, the long-term strategy would have been to run, out of necessity, a low-cost campaign and hang in to see if Perry would flame out and Romney would just seem like another Republican retread, a little like Bob Dole or John McCain. If those things happened, Pawlenty would be ready to step forward, the Sam’s Club Republican.
In a speech at the straw poll, Pawlenty had pleaded with the crowd to think about November 2012. He could be electable was his implied message, while candidates such as Bachmann and Paul would not.
“We need not just preach to the choir,” Pawlenty said in his speech. “But we have to have candidates who can get the message across [to a broad spectrum of Americans).”
This straw poll crowd wasn’t interested in such pragmatic political chat.
With every fiber of his being, Pawlenty must have wanted to stay in the race.
Since at least the last two years of his second term as governor, Pawlenty has had his eyes on the White House. Some say that he’s believed he could be president from the day he first won a Minnesota legislative seat in 1992.
Presumably, by dropping out so quickly, Pawlenty could be in a position to be the running mate of a candidate such as Romney or Perry. That was a role he coveted in the McCain campaign — and failed to get because of a newcomer, Sarah Palin.
Pawlenty, though, today made the traditional statement that he was not interested in the vice presidency.
Now, his presidential bid has been stopped by Bachmann and Paul.
Mainline Republicans, including some close supporters of Pawlenty, bemoan the clout of the Palin-Bachmann-Paul wing of the party.
On the other hand, Republican pols, including Pawlenty, tried to court that portion of the party, rather than broaden the base. In the end, though, that powerful group opted for other choices than Pawlenty.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.