Tim Pawlenty Dropping Out Of GOP Race For President

Tim Pawlenty is out, to nobody's surprise.

Not entirely surprisingly, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is dropping out of the race for the GOP nomination after a disappointing third place finish in yesterday’s Ames Straw Poll:

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is dropping out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

Pawlenty told supporters on a conference call Sunday morning that he would announce on ABC’s “This Week” that he was ending his campaign after a disappointing finish in the Iowa straw poll on Saturday.

The poll was a test of organizational strength and popularity in the state whose caucuses lead off the GOP nomination fight.

Pawlenty had struggled to gain traction in Iowa, a state he had said he must win, after laying the groundwork for a campaign for nearly two years.

Pawlenty had begun telegraphing this possibility last week, and while a third place finish was within the range he said that he wanted to finish in, the fact that he finished far behind the two leaders and only a few hundred votes ahead of Rick Santorum was likely the death knell for his campaign. As I’ve said here repeatedly, Iowa  was a do-or-die state for Pawlenty, if he didn’t succeed there his campaign was never going to take off nationally. For a time, it seemed like T-Paw would be the candidate who would rise to challenge Romney, but he remained at single digits in the polls and was eclipsed, first by Herman Cain and then by fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann. Now, with Rick Perry in the race, the odds of Pawlenty ever becoming anything other than a minor candidate were likely pretty much dead. Moreover, Pawlenty was running a traditional campaign that depended heavily on fundraising and yesterday’s results likely sent a message to donors that they were backing the wrong horse.

A year from now, I am sure that we’ll hear Pawlenty mentioned as a possible Vice-Presidential running mate for the eventual nominee, just as he was on the short list back in 2008. Perhaps he would make a good running mate, but his performance over the past several months on the stump are likely to work against him, and his overall blandness is going to make any GOP nominee think twice about picking him. Nonetheless if the nominee is a Southerner (i.e., Perry), then picking someone from the Mid-West would make eminent sense, so perhaps he will be on a short list. However, I’m not sure what he’d bring to the ticket that Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, or John Kasich wouldn’t.

It kind of says something about the state of the GOP these days that a guy who served eight years as Governor and numerous years in the State Senate, including many years as Majority and/or Minority Leader, is tossed aside so casually while someone like Bachmann becomes a rising star, though.

UPDATE (James Joyner): Doug and I were posting on this at the same time and his was more substantive. So, I’ll just append my analysis here.

Pawlenty has been touted as a major national force for years, and was considered a frontrunner to be tabbed as John McCain’s running mate in 2008. Unfortunately for him, he never caught on with actual voters. He was essentially a “Me Too” candidate, offering nothing that half a dozen others in the race didn’t and lacking what some of them have: charisma.

It’s perhaps ironic that I write this moments after publishing a post about how meaningless the Ames Straw Poll is. But Pawlenty was essentially all-in for a win here, needing something to goose his candidacy. He’s a distant eighth in the RealClearPolitics poll-of-polls. His 2.4% is half that of Newt Gingrich or Herman Cain and just fractionally better than Rick Santorum.

Unlike some of the vanity candidates, Pawlenty actually expected to compete for the nomination. Unable to gain traction or raise money, there’s not much point in him continuing the race. Guys like Gingrich, Cain, and Santorum can at least enjoy the spotlight and use it to promote their ideological agenda. Pawlenty doesn’t seem to have one.

UPDATE (Doug): Ed Morrissey, who lives in Minnesota, sees another road for T-Paw:

Pawlenty is young enough to try again in the future, but he will need something to do in between.  He can’t stay retired for four or eight years and then expect to come back and run for President again.  The obvious option here is a challenge to Senator Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota next year.  Klobuchar won big in the wave of 2006, swamping out Mark Kennedy by over 20 points to win her first term.  She’s smart and genuinely likeable, and so far hasn’t built an extreme record in her voting, although it’s certainly mainstream Democratic, but also hasn’t done much to distinguish herself.

Other Republicans are already gearing up to take her on, but given Klobuchar’s likeability and standing (the Klobuchars have been in Minnesota politics for a long time), it would take a Republican with high standing to make it a tough race.  Pawlenty is the last Republican to win a state-wide race in Minnesota, and knows how to fundraise and campaign.  Don’t be surprised if he decides to refocus his attention to Minnesota and make a run for Capitol Hill rather than the White House.  Pawlenty hasn’t always been the darling of the state Republican party, but expect them to woo Pawlenty for the bid.

This would be a smart move for Pawlenty. If he wins, he’ll be on Capitol Hill for the next 4-8 years building up a resume and gaining national recognition in a way that he wasn’t able to during the campaign. If he doesn’ t and the GOP grabs the White House, he’d be on a short list for a Cabinet position, one obvious choice given his Minnesota background being Secretary of Agriculture.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Laurie says:

    I’d say it is highly unlikely that Pawlenty will be picked for VP. He ended his terms as gov with a low job approval rating and his performance running for Pres has decreased his chance. I believe MN will be a blue state again and Pawlenty would do little to change that, though independents here would prefer him to Bachmann.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Not insane enough!

  3. Pawlenty simply can not win over Klobuchar. No way.

  4. hey norm says:

    T-Paw should have done what the Mittster did – run away from the crazy. How embarrassing…to be tossed out of the race by Bachmann.
    So it’s Bachmann, Perry, and Romney. Wow!!! Ain’t the GOP impressive!!!

  5. Kylopod says:

    >T-Paw should have done what the Mittster did – run away from the crazy.

    Yeah, saying we are “inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy” and comparing the Obama Administration to the British government under King George III is a sure sign of running away from the crazy.

    I suppose that a few years from now, calling John Quincy Adams a Founding Father and saying a debt default is just what the American economy needs will be examples of moderate Republicanism.

  6. Fiona says:

    Even when he was saying bat-shit crazy things he was still boring. Unless he can pick up a personality somewhere down the line, I don’t see him being a force in national politics (or taking a Senate seat from Amy Klobuchar).