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Iowa Straw Poll: Tim Pawlenty fights for his future

August 10, 2011|By James Oliphant
  • Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty meets with local high school teacher Greg Hudson during a campaign stop in Adel, Iowa.
Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty meets with local high school teacher… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

Reporting from Ames, Iowa — With a possible make-or-break moment days away, Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday evening continued to emphasize his executive experience, implicitly blasting both President Obama and archrival Michele Bachmann in the process.

“I’ve actually done this stuff,” Pawlenty told a crowd of about 50 in a community center near the Iowa State University campus. “There’s a big difference between people giving a speech and people getting it done.”

Pawlenty has spent this month criss-crossing Iowa in advance of the Straw Poll here Saturday, the next “benchmark in the journey” as he called it. He boasted that he’s traveled “1,000 miles last week” and “1,000 miles this week.” And indeed, his voice showed it, sounding strained and weary.

His two-term tenure as governor of neighboring Minnesota has been his calling card, a chief means to distinguish himself from Reps. Bachmann and Ron Paul, both of whom are expected to do well in the Straw Poll.

Where Pawlenty finishes may provide the biggest drama of the day;  he has maintained he has to finish somewhere near the top to demonstrate his viability as a presidential candidate. And he is considered to have the best organization in the state for delivering voters to Ames. The poll, more than anything, is considered a barometer of voter enthusiasm for a particular candidate.

But even if he proves skeptics wrong and finishes at the top, the victory is likely to be overshadowed by the impending entry of Texas Gov. Rick Perry into the race. To make matters worse for Pawlenty,Sarah Palin, another conservative star, plans to show up in Iowa on Friday, further draining the spotlight away from poll competitors.

Should Pawlenty press forward, Perry perhaps looms as his biggest threat here. Both will try to appeal to the social conservatives and "tea party" activists that hold sway in the caucuses, and Perry, too, has an executive record to crow about.

Wendy Jensen, a member of the local GOP central committee, said Pawlenty’s record was the reason she was going to vote for him Saturday at the poll. “He has created results,” she said. “He got Minnesota back on track.”

She carried a hand-lettered sign that read: “He’s got PAWLENTY of results.”

Pawlenty tried to connect his campaign themes to current events (“I think it’s time to downgrade Barack Obama,” he said) but got his biggest applause when he pledged to repeal the Democratic healthcare overhaul.

He appealed for supporters to come out in droves Saturday, at one point saying plaintively, “We’ve put our heart and soul into this.”

But he kept his remarks brief, so brief in fact, he even seemed surprised when they were over.

“That’s it?” he said to no one in particular. “That’s the end of the program?”

Not yet. But Saturday likely will have a great deal to say about if, and when, that end arrives.

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