Pawlenty vows to continue despite 3rd place finish
AMES, Iowa (AP) — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is pledging to continue his presidential campaign despite a distant third-place finish in an Iowa test vote he had spent months and mounds of money laying the groundwork to win.
The question is how?
Pawlenty, who has struggled to gain traction in the months since Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann entered the GOP race, had acknowledged that he needed a strong finish in the straw poll to show momentum and quiet concerns that his campaign was faltering.
But she won and got two times as many votes as Pawlenty, who came in well behind the second-place finisher, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Even so, Pawlenty made clear he wasn't dropping out, at least not yet.
In a message to supporters, he called the test vote here "an important first step on the road to the Republican nomination and, ultimately, the White House.
"As I've said all along, we needed to show progress to do well, and we did just that," Pawlenty said. "This is a long process to restore America — we are just beginning, and I'm eager for the campaign."
Still, he said in a statement after the results were announced: "We have a lot more work to do."
Perhaps the biggest challenge Pawlenty faces now is convincing donors that he's still a viable candidate. They were slow to give but now may clamp shut their wallets after their initial investment yielded only a third-place finish.
Pawlenty also now is competing for money in an expanded field. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a prolific fundraiser with deep ties to the party's biggest donors, jumped into the race Saturday.
Pawlenty also must work to convince voters to come on board. It's proving to be a tough sell. Pawlenty has spent months campaigning in Iowa but he hasn't been able to stoke the passions of voters the way other candidates and even noncandidates have been able to do.
"He said the right things, that we're going to limit the size of government and hold down spending," Sam Buck, a retired veteran from Winterset, said last week after hearing Pawlenty speak. "I like him ... but let's see what Perry of Texas does."
Kay Grubbs of Wiota visited with Pawlenty over coffee and breakfast rolls, and left impressed with the low-key Midwesterner. Still, she wasn't ready to commit to him, saying: "For me, it's going to come down to him and Michele Bachmann."
His presidential hopes rest in Iowa, a neighbor to his native Minnesota. He put much on the line ahead of the straw poll, spending the bulk of his campaign account on TV ads ahead of the contest and on a statewide tour of Iowa.
He held small meet-and-greet events and large town hall meeting. But the reviews were mixed. During one event billed as a rally, Pawlenty delivered his standard campaign speech filled with red-meat lines but the crowd remained seated and applauded respectful.
"He played the crowd well. He talks about the economy, which is the main thing. He's created jobs. As someone who needs one soon, that appeals to me," said Doug Hartwell, an engineering graduate student at Iowa State University. Then he added: "But I'd like to see Rick Perry. He has a proven track record of creating jobs, too."