The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Pawlenty’s Weakness in Iowa Was Not Unfamiliarity


Over in the Corner, Jonah continues to wonder if Pawlenty could have caught on by simply hanging around and waiting for his general, boring acceptability to catch on amidst a weak GOP field.

Far be it from me to scoff at the proposed George Costanza “By Mennen” strategy, but there’s very little evidence that Iowans or any other significant primary demographic would have warmed up to Pawlenty with more time and exposure. Jonah asks, “Had a majority of the GOP, or even the Iowa GOP, really paid that much attention as of mid-August 2011*?”

For starters, it is not as if coverage of his two terms as governor of Minnesota couldn’t cross a hermetically sealed state border. Pawlenty visited Iowa as early as 2009 and made 50 stops in the state by July of this year. In June, he became the first candidate to run television ads in Iowa, running a 30-second ad in six media markets.

Then in the final push to the Ames Straw Poll, Pawlenty made 29 stops in 26 cities across Iowa. He appeared in three debates, and the final one, held in Iowa, had 5.2 million viewers nationwide. In April 2011, Pawlenty garnered 1 percent in a survey of Iowa Republicans and 2 percent in July 2011. It couldn’t be that Iowa Republicans had merely tuned out the race, because an equally fresh face, Michele Bachmann, had surged to 21 percent by July. By July, only 4 percent of likely Iowa caucusgoers said they had never heard of Pawlenty; 47 percent said they had a favorable opinion of him, 19 percent said unfavorable and 30 percent said they had no opinion. But in the same survey, only 8 percent backed him and only 13 percent said he was their second choice.

Nationally, Pawlenty hit all the traditional stops for a candidate: all the Sunday shows, The Daily Show, op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, speaking at CPAC. He appeared on the cover of NR. He released 191 web videos and they generated considerable buzz.

Perhaps most significantly, it’s hard to argue that Pawlenty somehow never got a chance to appeal to the Republican donor base. For perspective, in July 2011, he had raised less than Bill Richardson had in his presidential bid in July 2007. It was no state secret that Pawlenty would need every penny he could get to beat Romney, and donors kept their wallets largely closed to him.

What’s more, the 16,862 Iowans who appeared in Ames for the straw poll certainly paid attention by mid-August. Pawlenty won the votes of 2,293 of them, or 13.6 percent.

“Had a majority of the GOP, or even the Iowa GOP, really paid that much attention as of mid-August 2011?” Yes.

* Jonah wrote “2010″ but I know he meant 2011.

Tags: Iowa , Tim Pawlenty


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