There are bad days on the presidential campaign trail and then there is something worse. Tim Pawlenty had one of those days, waking up to find:
-The New York Times reports Pawlenty could be the "First Out" of the big GOP White House hopefuls
-Bloomberg says "Doom" may await Pawlenty if he falls short at next month's Iowa Straw Poll
-The Des Moines Register quotes Pawlenty at an editorial board meeting yesterday saying, "This week is the first time that I've campaigned in earnest in Iowa." That's after some 50 stops in Iowa stretching back to 2009.
Pawlenty knows the heat is on and acknowledged as much when he talked to reporters Friday in Cedar Rapids. "We are an underdog in this race. The Des Moines Register has us in a poll in 6th or 7th place. Our goal between now and the Straw Poll is to show some improvement. We don't have to win it, but we do need to show some improvement."
Friday's campaign stop in Cedar Rapids also produced a notable change in Pawlenty's messaging-criticized by some as too civil for an electorate keen on removing President Obama. "Anyone can stand up here and flap their jaw and give a speech. We've had Obama with all his soaring rhetoric, with all this nonsense, he's like a manure spreader in a windstorm. It stinks. It's flying all over the place and It's not pretty."
DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse fired back at Pawlenty's comment by saying, "What's manure is the notion that he has the record or the ideas that the country needs to move our economy forward."
Whether this tougher talk is the start of a trend or a one-time zinger, Pawlenty's self-imposed call for improvement seemingly needs to start by proving that he is a top tier candidate. It is early, but the former Minnesota governor has not broken into the top half in Hawkeye State polling.
When you add up what Pawlenty does have in place in Iowa, the poll numbers are head-scratching.
By acclamation, Pawlenty has the largest and deepest campaign team in Iowa. The ultimate contest is a caucus (where people must go and stay at an appointed day and hour plus not get coaxed by friends and neighbors into voting for someone else) where having a ground-game and a strong team is a must. Pawlenty has also put in the time.
The Des Moines Register's ‘Candidate Tracker' which counts and locates stops of presidential candidates shows only former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has been to more events in Iowa.
Despite all this, those who might dismiss Pawlenty's chance in Iowa and beyond should pay attention to the history lesson offered by a key staffer. "My dad was polling lower than this and had less money; a smaller organization and still managed to do extremely well," Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News. Her father, Mike Huckabee (a Fox News Channel host), finished second in the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and went on to win the 2008 Iowa Republican Caucuses.
Huckabee Sanders is now at work in Iowa for Pawlenty. Her commitment, for now, is through the Straw Poll, which falls on August 13th. How well does Pawlenty need to do at this traditionally early show of organizational strength?
"I think he has to do well. I don't think there's a certain mark you have to hit," says Huckabee Sanders.
The good news is that early handicapping (which may amount to educated guessing) by Republican activists and campaign staffers finds the names of Pawlenty, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MInn., and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, mentioned most often.
If there are better days ahead in Iowa for Pawlenty, they'll be busy ones. Fox News has seen a copy of the tentative July event schedule for Pawlenty in Iowa. We counted 51 stops. That would almost double Pawlenty's Iowa campaign events.
Steve Brown is an author, radio broadcaster and seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.