Winning the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames on Saturday would be a feather in the cap of any Republican presidential candidate, but Tim Pawlenty said Sunday it's not a do-or-die for his candidacy.
Setting expectations low, the former Minnesota governor told "Fox News Sunday" he's "going to show good progress" for his efforts to woo voters in the Hawkeye State's first major test of a candidate's viability and organization. But the "ultimate objective" is to keep building momentum for next year.
"The proof will be in the pudding," Pawlenty said. "I think we're going to do well in Ames. I don't think we have to win it. We have to show progress. But then we'll be in position to win those caucuses next January or February, and that's the ultimate objective here."
The Iowa Straw poll on Saturday comes two days after the major Republican candidates participate in a debate sponsored by Fox News and The Washington Examiner.
Pawlenty, who's now running third in the Des Moines Register poll behind Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has been building his presidential campaign for well over a year, and has spent 42 days in Iowa, holding 102 events.
But being a distant third behind Bachmann and Romney has forced him to cast aside his "Minnesota nice" image and take on Bachmann, a fellow Minnesotan. On Sunday, he seemingly compared the Tea Party favorite to President Obama.
"(Obama) came through Iowa and other places, gave these soaring speeches, these incredible comments, people here, the Democrats brought it in Iowa, and then catapulted him to the presidency of the United States," he said. "And we now know he wasn't prepared for the job. ... We don't want to repeat that mistake.
"We are all held to our results ... I don't think it's unreasonable or inflammatory or even disputable to say that the next president of the United States should have executive experience with results running a large enterprise," Pawlenty added.
Bachmann has fired back, also comparing Pawlenty to Obama by calling him a big spender who left a $5 billion budget mess in the state that forced a government shutdown.
But Pawlenty said he did the hard work of taking spending down, appointing conservative justices and reforming health care and public employee benefits.
"I don't just flap my jaw, I don't just say maybe I'll do it someday. I don't talk about the hopes of getting it done, I have done it under difficult circumstances in Minnesota," he said.
Pawlenty also jabbed at Obama, saying the president's leadership is lacking on entitlement reforms and spending reductions.
"We shouldn't have to play come out, come out where ever you are with the president of the United States," Pawlenty said. He has an obligation and a responsibility to lead, and you can't find him He should step forward to the microphone and lead this nation on the most pressing, challenging financial issues of our day."