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After Pawlenty's Exit: Who Will Win Over Evangelical Republicans?


Tim Pawlenty ended his campaign for the Republican nomination yesterday, the day after Pawlenty ended a distant third in the Ames Straw Poll. The poll is non-binding, but it is an early test of a candidate's campaign strength. Pawlenty's campaign was well-organized, but it did not have the excitement and dedicated following of Rep. Michele Bachmann or Rep. Ron Paul, each of whom finished far above him in the poll.

The departure of Pawlenty is unlikely to shake up the GOP field, but it does raise the question about evangelicals in the Republican party. Pawlenty was the type of candidate that mainstream evangelical leaders would like. In June, 45 percent of the National Association of Evangelicals leadership said Pawlenty was their top-pick for the GOP candidacy. The next favorite pick—"no preference," followed by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Pawlenty has evangelical bona fides. His pastor is Leith Anderson, president of the NAE who officiated Pawlenty's marriage in 1987.

Pawlenty also had the support of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Standing next to Pawlenty at an event at the Iowa State Fair, Huckabee said, "I'm endorsing the principles of people who will stand for a smaller, more efficient government, lower taxes, the sanctity of life. And I wouldn't be on this stage if this guy didn't stand for those things."

Dave Peterson, a political science professor at Iowa State University, told CT that Pawlenty was the only candidate that was acceptable to everyone, but he couldn't inspire enough voters to be a viable candidate.

"Pawlenty's strategy was a decent one in theory," said Peterson, who was at the Iowa State Fair on Saturday. "His hope was that there would be a deadlock between candidates who were unacceptable to sizable portions of the party. Social conservatives wouldn't trust Romney, more establishment Republicans wouldn't trust Bachman, and lots of folks wouldn't trust Paul."

Speaking on ABC's This Week, Pawlenty said the Republican voters this year were looking for a different kind of candidate.

"What I brought forward I thought was a rational, established, credible, strong record of results, based on experience governing – a two-term governor of a blue state – but I think the audience, so to speak, was looking for something different," Pawlenty said.

This comment was considered to be a thinly veiled critique of Bachmann. Pawlenty focused on his fellow Minnesotan during last week's Iowa debate where he suggested that she was:

irrational ("Her answer is illogical")

– unestablished ("It's not her spine we're worried about, it's her record of results.")

– not credible ("She's got a record of misstating and making false statements")

with no record of results or experience ("In Congress, her record of accomplishment and results is nonexistent.")

But it was Bachmann who won the straw poll, even though her campaign was less organized than Pawlenty's.

In January, Pawlenty told CT that to build a viable campaign he needed to build name recognition and raise funds. Speaking yesterday, Pawlenty said he needed a stronger showing in the straw poll to keep raising funds.

"We had some success raising money, but we needed to continue that and Ames was a benchmark for that, and if we didn't do well in Ames, we weren't going to have the fuel to keep the car going down the road," Pawlenty said.

Minnesota Public Radio suggests a Senate run could be Pawlenty's future.

Image via Pawlenty's campaign.

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