The 2012 Republican presidential primary is turning into two races.
And then there is a race to win the GOP establishment nomination, which as of today seems to be safely in Mitt Romney’s pocket, both in terms of polling and fundraising.
The news in both races is that the man once viewed by political insiders as a major candidate is falling off the pace so badly that he is in danger of falling out of the race.
To know Gov. Pawlenty is to like him.
He is smart, has an engaging wife and they are both the absolute personification of “Minnesota Nice” – mild mannered, affable and comfortable in their own skin.
Throughout this campaign, he has impressed me as one of the few GOP candidates who I can imagine as president of the United States. He comports himself with the maturity befitting a person seeking the presidency of the United States. He is also highly qualified having served ten years as a state representative and eight years as governor.
As much as I like him, the political analyst in me cannot overlook the fact that his candidacy is in imminent danger of collapse within the next month. He is trailing Romney and Bachmann in national polls. And in Iowa, where Romney is taking a pass, Pawlenty is trailing Bachmann.
The most recent Real Clear Politics average of national polls has Pawlenty with only 4.3% support. This puts him far behind Romney, Bachmann and prospective candidates like Texas Governor Rick Perry and Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Gallup’s latest national poll has him at 1 percent; Quinnipiac national poll has him in eighth place among the ten candidates with 3 percent of the vote.
Last week, Magellan Strategies conducted a poll of about 1,000 likely Iowa GOP voters. Bachmann was the clear frontrunner with 29 percent support. Romney, who is not putting much effort into Iowa, won 16 percent support. Pawlenty is tied with Herman Cain for third place with 8 percent of the vote.
The most concrete sign of trouble for the T-Paw team was his third place showing in the presidential fundraising race last week.
Romney came in first with just over $18 Million dollars raised in the last quarter. Texas Congressman Ron Paul came in a distant second with 4.5 million followed by Pawlenty with $4.3 Million and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman with $4.1 Million. Michele Bachmann has $3 million left over from her congressional campaign which she can easily transfer to her presidential campaign
Any way you look at the campaign so far, the inescapable point is that Pawlenty is losing badly. Whether it is a poll of Republican voters or tally of the money being given to Republican candidates Pawlenty is coming up short.
Pawlenty is failing despite having done everything that a serious presidential candidate is supposed to do.
He recruited top GOP political talent to his campaign and built a solid campaign structure. He has spent a great deal of time campaigning in the early states and has stayed on message by telling voters of his accomplishments as governor. However, Pawlenty has not been able to excite Tea Party voters. He comes across as bland. Even when he had the chance to impress establishment Republicans in debate against Romney he did not perform.
Before the most recent Republican presidential debate Pawlenty introduced the term “Obamneycare” – a power punch of a phrase to remind voters that Romney’s health care plan for Massachusetts is the model for President Obama’s national health care plan. But Pawlenty did not use the phrase once the debate started. By the end of the night he had failed to land a punch, much less knock out Romney.
An added problem in the last two weeks is the shut-down of Minnesota’s state government over the state’s budget shortfall. Pawlenty's claim to have been a good steward of government spending and taxes now looks hollow.
We are three weeks away from the first Republican presidential debate in Iowa. It will be televised on Fox News and held at Iowa State University on August 11.
Two days later, an important GOP straw poll will take place in Ames, Iowa. While it has a mixed record of predicting the winner of the Iowa Republican caucuses and the eventual nominee, Ames is seen as an early test of the GOP candidates’ viability. George W. Bush won it in 2000.
This week Pawlenty announced he would be purchasing $200,000 worth of television advertising in Iowa in the weeks leading up to the straw poll.
Back in May, conservative columnist George Will said “I think we know with reasonable certainty that standing up there on the West front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 2013 will be one of three people: Obama, Pawlenty and Daniels. I think that’s it.”
People both applaud and joke about Pawlenty being Mr. Nice Guy. But at some point, his desire and toughness becomes a threshold question. If he is not willing to take on Mitt Romney in a primary campaign, how can Republicans expect him to take on Obama in a general election? Republican voters are looking for a candidate with a killer instinct.
Heading into the debate and the Ames straw poll, Pawlenty must demonstrate that he is not just Minnesota Nice but also “Tough.”
It’s time for the man from the Gopher state to show some bite or he will soon be out of the race.
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC's "The Five," where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.