Volunteers for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty take information from participants and hand out "Pawlenty 2012" T-Shirts at a table near a food tent the campaign set up for supporters.
Volunteers for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty take information from participants and hand out "Pawlenty 2012" T-Shirts at a table near a food tent the campaign set up for supporters. Don Gonyea/NPR
Former two-term Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made his final pitch to Iowa straw poll voters Saturday afternoon, offering himself as a tested candidate who can win in big presidential swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"I'll carry those states," he said, "as a candidate for president."
That may be a plausible argument, but the route to those states runs through Iowa. Now, and in its first-in-the-nation February caucus.
And despite his dogged work in the Hawkeye State, it wasn't a Pawlenty crowd that gathered Saturday in the cavernous Hilton Coliseum on the campus of Iowa State University.
Not for lack of effort on Pawlenty's part.
He'd tailored his message to the social conservative Iowa voters: God. Obamacare. Ronald Reagan. American exceptionalism. Balanced budget amendment. And ridicule of the president he wants to replace.
Obama, Pawlenty said, in a line that has become one of his favorites, is like a "manure spreader in a windstorm."
All good on paper, and attractive to supporters like Janice Megel of Des Moines, a former Democrat who voted for Obama in 2008 but strayed.
"Tim Pawlenty is a conservative, but not an extreme conservative," said Boston native Megel, as she waited in line for a Famous Dave's barbecue sandwich at her candidate's expansive party patch outside the coliseum. (A longer line queued up for free Dairy Queen ice cream.)
"I hope he gets a chance, but I don't think he's going to come out well here," said Megel, legislative chairwoman for the National Association of Postal Supervisors. Pawlenty went all in to win here – spending a rumored $1 million, and may not able to afford to go on, she said.
Inside, his speech was sandwiched between candidate Ron Paul, the Libertarian Texas congressman with a fervent following, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has done more than any in the GOP field of eight to dash Pawlenty's Iowa dreams.
Bachmann, in contrast to Pawlenty's low-key delivery, took the stage, microphone in hand, stressed her Iowa roots, and pronounced the state the "pace car" of the 2012 election.
For Pawlenty, the speech was about who could win in 2012.
For Bachmann, it was about what judges she'd appoint when she's in the White House.
"I will stand for life. I will stand for marriage. I will stand for you to keep the fruits of your own labor."
As she wound down, she exhorted the crowd to vote for her, to join her NOW at the voting booth.
Because if Michele "When I'm President" Bachmann has proven one thing in what she characterized as her "48-day campaign:" She never fails to close the deal.