Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination on Sunday, hours after finishing a disappointing third in the Iowa straw poll.
"I wish it would have been different. But obviously the pathway
forward for me doesn't really exist so we are going to end the
campaign," Pawlenty said on ABC's "This Week" from Iowa shortly
after disclosing his plans in a private conference call with
The low-key Midwesterner and two-term governor had struggled to
gain traction in a state he had said he must win and never caught
fire nationally with a Republican electorate seemingly craving a
charismatic, non establishment, rabble-rouser to go up against
President Barack Obama.
Pawlenty tried to turn up the heat on Obama and his GOP rivals.
But it often came across unnatural and he never was able stoked the
passions of voters.
"What I brought forward, I thought, was a rational, established, credible, strong record of results, based on experience governing - a two-term governor of a blue state. But I think the audience, so to speak, was looking for something different," he said.
In recent weeks, he withered under the rise of tea party favorite Michele Bachmann, whose rallying cry is a sure-fire applause line about making Obama a one-term president, and libertarian-leaning Ron Paul, as well as the promise of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the sharp-tongued Texan who entered the race Saturday.
"I thought I would have made a great president," Pawlenty
said. "I do believe we're going to have a very good candidate who
is going to beat Barack Obama."
He didn't immediately endorse a candidate.
Bachmann was quick to praise him, perhaps mindful of the need to broaden her appeal and reach his backers, who span the ideological spectrum.
"I wish him well," Bachmann said. "He brought a really
important voice into the race and I am grateful that he was in. He
was really a very good competitor."
The two-term ex-governor of a Democratic-leaning state was on
Arizona Sen. John McCain's short list for the vice presidential
spot in 2008. He had spent roughly two years laying the groundwork
for his 2012 campaign and had hoped to become the alternative to
the national front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
But this summer he unexpectedly found himself in a grudge match
with Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who shot to the top of polls in Iowa after getting into the race. Pawlenty struggled to
raise money and connect with voters. He poured most of his cash and
time into Iowa in the run up to Saturday's straw poll, a test of
organizational strength and popularity in the state whose caucuses
lead off the GOP nomination fight.
Pawlenty had acknowledged that he needed a strong finish in the
straw poll to show momentum and quiet concerns that his campaign
was faltering. He put it all on the line, spending the bulk of his
campaign account on TV ads ahead of the contest and on a statewide
tour of Iowa.
But Bachmann won with 4,823 votes, while Texas Rep. Paul got
4,671. Pawlenty received 2,293.
Pawlenty said his message "didn't get the kind of traction or
lift that we needed and hoped for coming into the and out of the
Ames straw poll. We needed to get some lift to continue on and to
have a pathway forward. That didn't happen."
Even after the poll, Pawlenty suggested to supporters late
Saturday night that he wasn't dropping out. He called the test vote
here "an important first step on the road to the Republican
nomination and, ultimately, the White House.
"This is a long process to restore America - we are just
beginning, and I'm eager for the campaign."
Still, he said in a statement after the results were announced:
"We have a lot more work to do."
Hours later, he reversed course in the face of a daunting
challenge: convincing donors who were slow to give in the months
leading up to the straw poll that he was still a viable candidate.
Had he stayed in the race, he would have been competing for money
in an expanded field as Perry, a prolific fundraiser with deep ties
to the party's biggest donors, entered the race.
Said Pawlenty: "We weren't going to have the fuel to keep the
car going down the road."
In Iowa, Pawlenty's exit means there's now an available
contingent of top GOP staff and consultants, including former state
party chairman, former advisers to President George W. Bush and
senior advisers to Mike Huckabee's winning 2008 caucus campaign,
including Sarah Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor's daughter.
Top legislators who had signed on to Pawlenty's camp also now are
free to rally behind other candidates.
It's not yet clear the size of the electorate Pawlenty frees up.
GOP activists commonly praised his skill and background, but many
were holding out until they met other candidates. This was an
especially common reaction among a class of pro-business
Republicans in Iowa.
On paper, Pawlenty, 50, seemed to have all the right ingredients
as a candidate.
His blue-collar upbringing offered him a natural rapport with
middle-class America. He governed as a fiscal hard-liner in a
left-leaning state, winning his second term in a year when
Republicans elsewhere got drubbed. He made inroads with the right
crowds and assembled an all-star cast of advisers with loads of
presidential campaign experience.
Pawlenty ran a traditional operation. In the lead-up to his
campaign, he spread checks around to local politicians in key
states through a political action committee while putting a heavy
focus on small-scale events in places such as Iowa and New
But Pawlenty struggled to connect. He came off as bland and
rehearsed next to more dynamic contenders. He languished in the
polls. Perry's candidacy shoved Pawlenty further to the side.
His inability to stoke the passions of voters the way other
candidates and even non-candidates have was evident.
"He said the right things, that we're going to limit the size
of government and hold down spending," Sam Buck, a retired veteran
from Winterset, said last week after hearing Pawlenty speak. "I
like him ... but let's see what Perry of Texas does."
Pawlenty had been building momentum after a May campaign launch in which he framed himself as the one in the race willing to
deliver the hard truths and confront public policy sacred cows. The
climb screeched to a halt in a New Hampshire debate in early June,
when he shied away from the chance to back up prior tough talk
about Romney when they were face to face. It reinforced worries
among some Republicans that he wouldn't be willing to take the
fight to Obama as the nominee.
In that same debate, Bachmann declared herself a candidate and
immediately cast a long shadow Pawlenty had trouble escaping.
Pawlenty tried for weeks to reel in Bachmann, questioning her
accomplishments in office and framing her as a perpetual naysayer.
In Thursday's debate, Pawlenty went even harder at her and said all
of the major policies she proudly fought came to pass anyway.
"If that's your view of effective leadership with results,
please stop because you're killing us," Pawlenty said to her.
That caused some Republicans to question whether he came on too
Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa,
and Philip Elliott in Ames, Iowa, contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)