With an overnight change of heart, Tim Pawlenty becomes the first to leave GOP presidential race

Tim Pawlenty, the first GOP candidate to go into Iowa, becomes the first to leave.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Tim Pawlenty, the first GOP candidate to go into Iowa, becomes the first to leave.

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.

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Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/14/2011 - 01:25 pm.

    I suspect we’ll see what former Gov. Pawlenty’s motivation for dropping out of the race was when we see where he lands.

    I have a strong feeling that someone made him an offer he couldn’t refuse – not a horses’s head in his bed, but the promise of future income as a pundit for any one of several inside-the-beltway, “conservative” think tanks.

  2. Submitted by Terry Hayes on 08/14/2011 - 01:29 pm.

    I still don’t understand why Pawlenty ever thought he had the stuff to be president. With Bachmann you know her delusions of grandeur are caused by mental problems, but Timmy seems somewhat sane. I’m glad he’s gone, though. Hope he doesn’t resurface anyplace where he can be dangerous.

  3. Submitted by Maury Landsman on 08/14/2011 - 02:25 pm.

    I would not be surprised to see him gear up for a run against Franken in 2014. I think that Klobuchar would be too difficult to beat.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/14/2011 - 02:46 pm.

    I’ve thought all along that TPaw’s campaign was more about gaining visibility for 2016 than any real expectation that he could gain the nomination in 2012.

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/14/2011 - 02:48 pm.

    Classy move by Mr. Pawlenty and his advisers.
    Pawlenty has a history of being an astute politician. Pawlenty is a pro and knows when to call it a day.

    I wonder which candidate will get his endorsement. It’s a safe bet it won’t be Ms. Bachmann

  6. Submitted by Bruce Adomeit on 08/14/2011 - 05:30 pm.

    “… John McCain, the eventual Republican presidential nominee in 2010 …
    Make that 2008.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/14/2011 - 07:58 pm.

    Pawlenty has always been a poster boy for mediocrity. He never won an election MN by any meaningful margin, he only squeaked by in weird three way races. I don’t why he’s failure here would surprise anyone. The guy is dull and dullard, no charisma, no ideas, no record other than presiding over a decay process in MN.

    And why are all these Republicans talking about McCain as if he didn’t go to lose the election?

    The Republican clearly have a disfunctional party process that is incapable of producing qualified candidates. If I were the Republicans I would ban the Iowa straw poll, it only serves to marginalize the party and promote whackadoo candidates. Hell, if I were Iowa I would ban the Straw Poll, it does more damage to Iowa’s images than a dozen tornadoes. Bachmann won? Doesn’t surprise me, but the fact that is doesn’t surprise me bodes ill for Iowa’s image.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/14/2011 - 07:58 pm.

    Pawlenty will be even more irrelevant in 2016 than he was this time around.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/14/2011 - 08:44 pm.

    It’ll be Pawlenty v. Klobuchar next year.

  10. Submitted by will lynott on 08/14/2011 - 09:42 pm.

    Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy. Good riddance.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/15/2011 - 07:59 am.

    Pawlenty’s political career is toast. He’ll go get a job somewhere now as a mediocre lawyer, or recede into the party structure… maybe go after Sutton’s job.

  12. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/15/2011 - 08:08 am.

    Everybody in the straw poll below Pawlenty now becomes nothing more than a republican noise maker.

    Pawlenty couldn’t win his own state in a presidential run how could he win a senatorial seat from Klobuchar? Non-performers don’t deserve to be in politics. There is going to be a sucking sound after the next election and it will be the sound of republicans being washed out of congress for non-performance.

  13. Submitted by Steve Marquardt on 08/15/2011 - 09:35 am.

    Tim must be regretting his decision not to run for a third term as Governor. Armed with Republican majorities in both legislative houses, he could have been cracking down on bureaucrats, teachers and other union members, thus positioning himself as boldly as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, but much more experienced. How exciting would that have been for the GOP base?

    Tim’s main claim to fame has been holding the line on taxes and budgets, but even in Minnesota political leaders who merit statues or who have buildings or highways named after them need something more in the way of accomplishment. Governor Pawlenty’s JobZ and ethanol support programs were not enough, even in Iowa.

  14. Submitted by Tom Horner on 08/15/2011 - 10:10 am.

    I thought Gov. Pawlenty veered off track over the past few years and especially as a presidential candidate. But he is a person of enormous talent and intelligence. If the Tim Pawlenty I knew in the 1990s — a person committed to true redesign of government, to equality, to environmental stewardship, to shared economic prosperity — would re-emerge, he could be a very effective leader in moving the GOP from the crazy right to its legitimate and needed position as the party of thoughtful conservatives. Trying to be all things to all people failed as a presidential candidate. Time to go back to being the smart conservative.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/15/2011 - 10:34 am.

    //true redesign of government, to equality, to environmental stewardship,

    Pawlenty had 8 years to redesign government, and all he did was dismantle it… not the same thing. His cost savings initiatives, especially in the IT departments were shrouded in secrecy, had no transparency, and produce zero results. In fact in most cases he made things more complex and less efficient. His only environmental initiative was ethanol, and that was a market driven initiative that has now completely and predictably backfired. The amount of grain that it takes to fill one SUV gas tank would feed a person for a year, not to mention the huge amounts of water wasted in the process. And that corn was diverted into fuel at precisely the same time that food production world-wide is dropping due to global warming thus magnifying a variety of problems.

    The man has no record to run on, other than a record of creating and magnifying problems and accelerating structural decay.

  16. Submitted by Susanna Patterson on 08/15/2011 - 11:10 am.

    By her own admission, Ms. Bachmann won with the help of a “large number of Democrats and Independents.” (from Sunday’s interview with Chris Wallace) Genuine supporters who have “seen the light” — or something else?

  17. Submitted by larry boss on 08/15/2011 - 12:01 pm.

    Goodbye T-PAW you old flip-flopper!

  18. Submitted by larry boss on 08/15/2011 - 12:03 pm.

    Hey Tom (Mr. 11%) Horner, no one cared about your opinions in November 2010, so please just go away!

  19. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 08/15/2011 - 12:54 pm.

    I think Mr. Horner is referring to the pre-governor Pawlenty. The one who actually supported gay rights as a legislator. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for him to go back to being a “smart conservative” given what we heard during his presidential campaign, such as repudiating his one-time belief in science on the climate change issue and taking every opportunity to demonstrate his anti-gay bigotry. A person who changes course (to go backwards) on issues like that is a person without principles. Someone who doesn’t believe in anything – who is willing to do or say whatever to get ahead. Tim Pawlenty sold whatever soul he had, and it didn’t even get him anywhere.

    Pawlenty isn’t running against Klobuchar. As evidenced by his departure from the presidential race, he is astute enought to know when to avoid a beating. Franken in 2014 maybe, but I expect the Republicans will be looking for someone better than a retread who never got anywhere close to 50 percent when he ran for governor.

  20. Submitted by will lynott on 08/16/2011 - 02:30 am.

    “If the Tim Pawlenty I knew in the 1990s — a person committed to true redesign of government, to equality, to environmental stewardship, to shared economic prosperity — would re-emerge, he could be a very effective leader in moving the GOP from the crazy right to its legitimate and needed position as the party of thoughtful conservatives. Trying to be all things to all people failed as a presidential candidate. Time to go back to being the smart conservative.”

    Jeez, #13, you want TP to flip-flop AGAIN? Not that he wouldn’t shamelessly do it, but the man has no credibility left. That dog would not hunt, and that’s a fact.

    BTW, #8 and others, TP has already ruled out running against Klobuchar next year, probably because he knows she’d whip his a$$. Of course, he might flip-flop on that decision as well. He’s certainly got a sterling history of doing that–he even flip-flopped on his initial statements that he would stay in the race even after losing the straw poll.

    The man’s toast.

  21. Submitted by Frank Meyer on 09/14/2011 - 07:05 am.

    A good surmise as to why Pawlenty folded when he did, and announced his support for Romney: Romney will cover Pawlenty’s campaign debts.

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