You’re forgiven for thinking the Ames Straw Poll, which happened Saturday, and the Iowa caucuses, which don’t happen until Feb. 6, are one and the same. They both are engulfed in incredible hype. And failure to win it or do well can force a Republican presidential aspirant to call it quits.

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has the sad distinction of being the first of the official aspirants to drop out. He didn’t outlast Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who lost most of his campaign staff due to a penchant for private planes and Tiffany’s. And he was no match for Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), whose nonsense on the debt-ceiling vote on yesterday’s “Meet The Press” adds to the evidence that she shouldn’t be entrusted with the presidency. In retrospect, it’s easy to say that Pawlenty was doomed from the start.

He did everything to catch fire, but the spark wasn’t there. You know you’re in trouble when your videos are infinitely more exciting and interesting than you are. Pawlenty also committed an unforced error by creating an amazing slam that incorporated the presumed frontrunner, former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.), and his role in inspiring President Obama’s chief legislative accomplishment — “Obamneycare”— and then refusing to repeat it when Romney was standing next to him at a debate days later.

That Pawlenty decided to finally show some fire at the Fox debate last Thursday was unfortunate. On paper, Pawlenty’s takedown of Bachmann made sense. The two are fighting for the No. 2 slot during the primaries behind Romney. In reality, Pawlenty came off as a latter-day Rick Lazio, the New York Republican who ran for the Senate in 2000 against then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and whose aggressive stroll over to her podium, some say, sealed his electoral fate.

With Pawlenty out and Gov. Rick Perry (Texas) in, Bachmann has serious competition on her hands. She may have won the straw poll against a couple of former governors. My only question is: Will she be able to maintain the momentum from her victory to force out of the race a current governor who has more experience than she does and is competing for the hearts of the same voters as she is? We’ll have an answer in six months.