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Posted at 11:31 AM ET, 01/12/2011

It's Go Time for Pawlenty

By Aaron Blake

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's book tour launches Thursday, and it marks a major opportunity for the little known governor's nascent presidential campaign.

As we mentioned in Morning Fix on Tuesday, Pawlenty comes into the presidential sweepstakes as one of the least known candidates in a field packed with well-known candidates.

A book tour/media blitz is a great way to introduce yourself to voters -- which is why so many prospective candidates write books -- and Pawlenty is hard at work after having left the governor's mansion earlier this month.

Tuesday alone, he appeared on ABC's Good Morning America and "The View" as well as doing two hits on Fox News and one on CNN. Today, he was set to do "Fox and Friends", MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and CNBC's "Squawk Box" in the morning and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" at night.

Those appearances and interviews with conservative magazines, the Washington Post (check out Karen Tumulty's great piece here), the New York Times and many other outlets have made Pawlenty the second-biggest news-maker in the presidential field over the last few days, behind -- who else? -- Sarah Palin.

Indeed, the recent shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) has the general public's eyes averted elsewhere, but Pawlenty is quietly building his brand with the chattering classes and sounding off on big issues of the day -- including the shooting and what it says about the country.

The book tour begins in Washington with an appearance at a National Press Club luncheon at a downtown Barnes and Noble just four blocks from the White House that Pawlenty hopes to inhabit in two years' time. From there, the governor goes to Florida, Texas and then the all-important presidential primary and caucus states of New Hampshire (Jan. 24) and Iowa (Jan. 30 and 31). Those visits to the two earliest presidential states will be especially key.

Below, we look at the best-case scenario and worst-case scenario for Pawlenty's first big moment on the national stage.

Best-case scenario

Pawlenty begins to raise his profile and answers some doubts about his charisma. The governor cannot expect to become an overnight sensation because, well, he won't. It's not his personality, and he doesn't pack the base-rousing oomph of a Palin or even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The Weekly Standard said Pawlenty "may, in fact, be the most underestimated Republican presidential candidate -- one who could appeal to the Tea Party and the Republican establishment." And on "Good Morning America", Pawlenty made some news by separating himself from Palin's use of crosshairs to target Giffords and other members of Congress in a graphic on her political action committee's website last year.

That's a good strategy for Pawlenty: make yourself relevant and newsworthy while not being terribly offensive to Palin and her supporters in the event she decides not to run. (Pawlenty has also spent a good bit of time defending Palin of late, so he's working both sides pretty well here.)

If Pawlenty is to be accepted as a major player in the presidential nominating contest, he needs to convince the media and political activists that he's for real. It's a slow burn, but he needs a spark. And he's got his chance now.

Worst-case scenario

Nothing changes. Pawlenty needs a jump start if he wants to go anywhere. Right now, he's unknown and needs to find his place in the field. The emergence of buzzier candidates like Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) has stolen some of Pawlenty's thunder, and Pawlenty's stock fell badly in a recent poll of insiders conducted by the National Journal.

If Daniels and Thune flame out (which is quite possible, being that Daniels has some problems with social issues, and Thune voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout) or don't run at all, there could be a nice path for Pawlenty. But now is the time to prove that he can pick up those voters.

We hate to over-emphasize the political experts and activists role in this (for fear of navel-gazing), but in this case, they matter.

A presidential campaign is like a glacier -- most of its size (and action) is below the surface. In order to get off the ground, you need to raise money. Pawlenty built a base by running for governor twice and serving as vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and his PAC raised decent money last cycle. But reaching that next level will be paramount for him over the next few months.

By Aaron Blake  | January 12, 2011; 11:31 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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Next: Sarah Palin as provocateur

 
 
 
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