Pawlenty’s campaign also sent out a letter of support to conservative Iowans signed by Sarah Huckabee, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and the newest addition to Pawlenty’s field staff in Iowa. Sarah Huckabee, who helped her father win the Iowa caucuses in 2008 largely with strong support within the evangelical community, told voters to support Pawlenty because he “has the same conservative convictions and executive experience I admire in my dad.”
The moves reveal the urgency for Pawlenty to do well among Iowa’s evangelical voters at a time when his standing is not improving in polls. Pawlenty is competing for those votes with a fellow Minnesotan, Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is hugely popular among Christian conservatives and whose own standing in recent polls has shot to the top of the field in Iowa since she entered the presidential race a few weeks ago.
Adding to the urgency for Pawlenty is the impending Ames Straw Poll on the campus of Iowa State University in mid-August. Although not always a predictor of the winner of the Iowa caucuses, the straw poll nonetheless is viewed as a measure of the strength of contenders’ on-the-ground organizations in Iowa. If the candidates can draw voters to Ames to participate in the straw poll, the thinking goes, then there’s a good chance they can do the same next February.
No one is working harder in Iowa to make that happen than Pawlenty, whose momentum has sputtered since he fumbled a chance to criticize former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the GOP front-runner, in a televised debate in New Hampshire last month. To turn his prospects around, Pawlenty is blanketing Iowa with broadcast TV ads and mail pieces. In a three-day campaign swing last week, he urged audiences across the state to make it to Ames to cast their vote for him. And he will spend much of the next two weeks in Iowa as well.
In addition, his campaign launched a new Web page focused exclusively on drawing supporters to Ames.
Perhaps no group is more important to the outcome in Ames than evangelical Christians, who make up nearly half of likely Republican caucusgoers in Iowa, higher than the national figure for GOP voters.
Pawlenty’s release of the video and the Huckabee letter came even as he announced Wednesday that he would not sign a lengthy pledge authored by evangelical Iowan Bob Vander Plaats, a Huckabee supporter in 2008 and failed gubernatorial candidate last year. The pledge has caused controversy for stating that homosexuality is a choice and suggesting that more African American babies are born out of wedlock today than under slavery.
Pawlenty said he admires Vander Plaats and subscribes to many of the tenets in the pledge, but he prefers to express his views in his own words.
Pawlenty made his most direct appeal yet to evangelical voters in his video. Raised a Catholic, Pawlenty described in the video how he “leaned into” his faith when his mother died of cancer when he was 16. He also discussed his decision to join his wife Mary’s evangelical church when they married.
“When somebody is running to hold high office, whether it’s mayor, governor or president of the United States, voters want to know and deserve to know who is this person, what shaped their values, what are their values,” Pawlenty said. “Is this a person that’s good to their word? Can we count on them?”
Mary Pawlenty may well be the real star of the video. The candidate stood silent, watching his wife as she described the role of faith in her daily life, including “a little time with the Lord, spending time with a devotional, a scripture passage, sometimes in prayer, it varies every day.”
“Sometimes you have a little more time and sometimes you have a little bit less,” said Mary Pawlenty, but every day her goal is “starting off on the right foot, and just asking God, will he please guide you in the course of your day, help you in your words, help you in your actions, knowing that you’re just going to rest in who God is, and he’s going to lead the way every day.”
The Pawlentys also described their view that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and Mary Pawlenty paraphrased Benjamin Franklin when she said: “If a sparrow cannot fall without God’s knowledge, is it possible that an empire could not rise without his aid? We know that this country was founded by people of faith and that that’s a critical aspect of this country’s roots.”