They were wrong — and Pawlenty’s supporters and strategists said as much after he announced his withdrawal Sunday on national television. At a time when conservative Republican primary voters were looking for red-meat rhetoric and tea party-style confrontation, Pawlenty offered them an entirely different personality and record.
That helps explain why fellow Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Ron Paul (Tex.) each garnered more than twice the number of votes as Pawlenty at the straw poll in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday with rousing messages criticizing Obama and steadfast pledges never to compromise.
“It’s not that he isn’t a fighter; he’s won more battles than anyone else on that stage,” said a source close to the campaign who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The way he’s run his fights is through policy and legislative battles once he’s been elected. But the races were actually pretty tame. They weren’t bloody campaigns. They were bloody legislative battles.”
Pawlenty acknowledged the disconnect between what he had to offer and what voters seem to want.
“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,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But I think the audience, so to speak, was looking for something different.”
What made matters worse, some supporters said, was Pawlenty’s decision several weeks ago, in an effort to lift his low standings in the field, to try to fit into the firebrand mold that GOP voters were using to size up the candidates. It wasn’t who he was, supporters said, and so he either came across forced or he hesitated so much that he left the opposite impression than he intended.
In June, for instance, leading up to a televised debate in New Hampshire, Pawlenty took several swipes at Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, using the term “ObamneyCare” to make the point that health-care legislation Romney supported while governor of Massachusetts was the basis for Obama’s health-care law. But when, as expected, Pawlenty was asked about the term during the debate, Pawlenty stumbled.
The moment was devastating, strengthening the narrative that Pawlenty was not strong enough and stalling fundraising efforts at a critical time in the campaign. He decided he had no choice but to focus on Iowa and the straw poll, even though it is not always a predictor of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, let alone the Republican nomination — and even though it could drag him into battle with opponents who boasted significant advantages.