Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has said that this week is “the first time that I’ve campaigned in earnest in Iowa.” Since he’s been here more than any other candidate, what was he doing before? This is spin to address his lagging poll numbers. In the last Iowa Poll he polled at 6%. In the latest New Hampshire polls he averages 4%.
He’s all in for Iowa and the Ames Straw Poll and I predicted that he’d come out on top, but with the latest poll numbers I’m not quite so sure. He has the most staff, he’s been here the most, he’s investing heavily in the straw poll, and he’s spent the most money here. He just rolled out a new web ad yesterday:
Conventional wisdom says he should be on top. Yet he’s lagging behind. He just brought on Sarah Huckabee Sanders who helped her father win the 2008 Iowa Caucus… yet I’m not so sure that’ll be enough.
Why is it that Pawlenty isn’t getting any traction here? In an interview I did with Fox News correspondent Steve Brown yesterday (it was taped and I have no idea when or if it’ll be played) that was the topic of conservation. I think there are about four things that is holding him back. Two things he can do something about, two he can’t.
First the two items he can change…
1. Minnesota nice is well and good, but he needs to put some daylight between himself and other candidates. I like his “results, not rhetoric” tagline and I think pointing out what he did as Governor is certainly beneficial. With issues he needs to point out differences between himself and other candidates. He missed an opportunity during the New Hampshire debate by not drilling Romney on “Obamneycare” and he can’t afford to do that – especially when it comes gift wrapped. You can point out differences without personally attacking the candidate. He must distinguish himself from the rest of the field.
2. Kill the clunkers… there are things in his past which gives people who believe in limited government pause. He has acknowledged his former position on cap and trade as one of those clunkers. I’m concerned with his record on education. He needs to acknowledge where he was wrong and lay out succinctly lay out why we can trust him in those areas. If he said for instance, “I was wrong to apply for Race to the Top funds and I’m going to do everything in my power to reverse the impact of national common core standards on the states.” That would go a long way with me.
Things he can’t change… The first line of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr goes, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” There are things that he just can’t change and needs to accept those things.
3. He’s kind of boring… compare him with the other Minnesotan in the race and good night. I haven’t seen him dance after a campaign speech. Nor do I expect him to. People complain that he’s boring, but there’s really nothing he can do to change that. He’s a nice guy, very likable, but exciting he is not. The best speechwriter won’t help his delivery… So move on.
4. A crowded field. Pawlenty’s main problem is that he needs a couple of candidates to drop out. While he has a strong record on life, so do other candidates. The same is true with other issues. He needs to hope that after Ames a candidate or two will drop out. If Texas Governor Rick Perry or former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin gets in they could suck the air out of the room. Pawlenty is really at the mercy of what others do.
Campaigning in earnest may not be enough if he doesn’t address the problems he does have. One of those problems isn’t the amount of time he’s spending here.
Picture by Dave Davidson