The town hall event surrounding Tim Pawlenty's official jump into the 2012 GOP race for president did not happen in the former Minnesota governor's home state. Instead, the chosen backdrop for Pawlenty's announcement was the picturesque gold dome of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.
Iowa caucus-goers like it that way.
Roughly 100 people attended the outdoor town hall on top of the Iowa Historical Society, including Des Moines resident Don Conn, a Vietnam veteran, who heard Pawlenty speak today for the first time. Conn's impression of the former two term governor: "he seems very presidential... he has a down home feel, the type of person who could come to my house and sit down and talk to me," Conn said.
That description is exactly what political insiders say will help Pawlenty, who has a long way to go to become a household name.
Pawlenty has hired more Iowa staffers than any other GOP candidate in the race so far. An investment of that size in the Hawkeye state means the door is "wide open" for Pawlenty, according to Craig Robinson, who runs theiowarepublican.com. "No one has made a bigger commitment in terms of ground game in Iowa than Tim Pawlenty has, thus far... if his campaign is going to take off, he has to do it in Iowa." Robinson notes the absence of candidate Mitt Romney campaigning in Iowa can only help Pawlenty get his message out here.
Democrats wasted no time launching attacks at Pawlenty and his record, following Monday's town hall. The chairman of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, Ken Martin, traveled to Des Moines so that he could react in a timely fashion to Pawlenty's announcement, calling the former governor "a chameleon trying to reinvent his stripes in every state that he travels in."
Martin also took a swipe at the way Pawlenty chose to launch his campaign in Iowa. "I think it's a real slap in the face to Minnesotans that he would come down to Iowa and announce, not that Iowa is not an important place. The point is he's from Minnesota. He served as governor."
But as everyone knows, the first critical test in a presidential race happens in Iowa, a state that will likely make or break Pawlenty's campaign for the Republican nomination. One thing is for sure, he can expect tough questions from Iowa voters. Every word Pawlenty utters will be scrutinized. "Does he have the right tone, the right message," Robinson asks. "[I]s he peaking interest while he's out and about?"
Time will tell.