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Pawlenty advertises himself as a unifier of conservatives; is he?

May 27, 2011|By Michael Muskal | Los Angeles Times
(Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images )

Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, blitzed his first official week as a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination with television appearances in which he argued that he was the most likely person to unite the different conservative strains that make up the modern Republican party.

Appearing on CNBC on Friday, Pawlenty argued that he was the candidate who could unite the party, made up of economic, social, libertarian, “tea party,” national defense and other types of conservatives.

“I will be the one candidate in the race that can unite the whole party. I am a conservative across the board,” Pawlenty argued. “Most of the other candidates primarily appeal to one of those buckets.”

Pawlenty has been running for president, either actively or quietly for well more than a year. Yet most polls have shown him mired well down in the second tier of candidates with an approval rating in the single digits. The low numbers haven’t stopped the media from portraying him as a serious candidate compared to some of the others such as Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who is viewed as a niche commodity even though his overall numbers are slightly higher.

However, as more possible candidates drop out, freeing up their supporters, and as some  continue to seek an alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney, Pawlenty is trying to position himself as the conservative who can capture the anti-Romney feelings in the party. Both can boast of being former governors of sizable states and of having dealt with the types of issues that will be the keystones of the 2012 race: the economy, jobs, deficits and healthcare.

According to the latest Gallup poll, Pawlenty has his work cut out for him in portraying himself as the unifier of the party. The poll findings are based on 971 telephone interviews May 20-24. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Of the possible candidates – including those who have declared or are just the object of speculation – Pawlenty is running well back. Romney leads with 17%, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is at 15% and Paul at 10%. Those in single digits include former House Speaker Newt Gingrichat 9%, businessman Herman Cain at 8%, Pawlenty at 6% and Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 5% each.

Looking at the nominating race through the lens of the issues is just as daunting for Pawlenty. He was the favorite of just 9% of those who identified government spending and power as their major issue. Just 5% who pick business and the economy as their major issue back Pawlenty, and 6% of those who are mainly concerned with national security and foreign policy pick the governor. Of those who see social issues as the wedge, a statistically meaningless 1% sided with Pawlenty.

“I like the fact that the race isn’t settled yet,” Pawlenty said on Friday.

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