May 2011 Update: Pawlenty continues to do the things you need to do if you want to become your party’s candidate in a presidential general election. The debate earlier this month in South Carolina was seen largely as one that was between Pawlenty and the second and third tier. With the departure from the 2012 contest of another candidate this month, Pawlenty may perform better in the Iowa caucuses. We will see if he’ll be able to compete on the money front and if he’ll be able to shine during a debate in which he isn’t the only candidate viewed as a credible contender.
March 2011 Update: Pawlenty announced the formation of an exploratory committee (a pretty sure sign that he’s going to run). This makes him the first serious candidate to do so. He continues to travel the country and perform well in straw polls among activists, even as a recent polls shows that a majority (60%) of Republicans do not know who he is. I think that Pawlenty will be formidable as they get to know him.
Pawlenty was one of the earliest supporters of Sen. McCain in the 2008 cycle. He is rumored to have been on McCain’s short list for vice president, but was passed over for another young governor. Popular in his state, Governor Pawlenty caused immediate 2012 speculation when he announced in the summer of 2009 that he would not seek a third term as Minnesota’s governor. The now former governor has been the most candid about his intentions to run. When he enters the contest, Pawlenty will bring with him a working-class populist approach that is popular in the Midwest and could bring strength throughout the country. I think of him as the Mr. Nice Guy of the field; he generally focuses on a positive message, but he is capable of throwing an elbow when necessary. Though Pawlenty is relatively unknown he travelled to neighboring state Iowa and New Hampshire often to promote his book, endorse candidates, raise funds (he’s been competitive so far) and build support. Pawlenty will be one to watch in the primaries and could be a strong contender. In a general election, he would put Minnesota and other midwestern states in play (MN has been competitive in recent years, barring 2008), giving the president a run for his money in a critical electoral region.