Conservatives regretting Pawlenty’s early withdrawal from GOP race
As the GOP presidential field in Iowa continues to fluctuate wildly between flavor-of-the-month candidates like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, conservatives pundits are questioning Tim Pawlenty’s decision to drop out of the race.
Pawlenty quit his candidacy after a disappointing third place finish in the Iowa Straw Polls.
As conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg points out, Pawlenty’s strategy was to “[b]e the most electable candidate to the right of Romney.”
But in a crowded conservative field, Pawlenty’s message didn’t really spark with voters, who kept him in the single digits throughout early polling.
Since then, the campaigns of both Perry and Bachmann have run into some bumps, with Herman Cain and Mitt Romney now ascending to the top of the heap. The Atlantic points out that neither of these two candidates have much of an Iowa ground operation, which could mean the race is still in flux there.
This is where Goldberg sees a spot for Pawlenty:
“His problem stemmed from the fact that he’s a vanilla guy who thought he needed to convince conservatives he was a more exciting flavor. He should have waited, because vanilla may not be anyone’s first choice, but it’s almost everyone’s second choice.”
Isaac Chotiner at the New Republic chimes in with a similar angle, calling Pawlenty a “more credible alternative to Romney.”
Although Chotiner admits Pawlenty had financial troubles, he argues that his realistic chances of winning the endorsement merited staying in the race.
With the release of recent quarterly financial reports, it’s clear that Pawlenty was probably more than $500,000 in debt when he dropped out, as reports at the time suggested. Even now, Pawlenty’s debt sits at more than $450,000, with only $20,000 on hand. Not only did Pawlenty blow all his funds in the run-up to the Iowa Straw Poll, he spent way more than he had.
Pawlenty has said he regrets dropping out so early. But as Pawlenty told Minnesota Public Radio in October:
“We made some decisions that I think with the benefit of hindsight I would have done differently. I think if we had it to do over again, we would have probably metered out our resources lighter earlier so we could have made them last longer,” Pawlenty said. “Instead, we went for a more dramatic piece of progress in that early Iowa contest, and I think we should have made a different decision.”
Even if Pawlenty had been willing to go even further into debt after the straw poll, Des Moines Register polling shows it may not have made a difference to actual Iowa voters.
The recent poll found that only 5 percent of voters would now choose Pawlenty as their first choice, with only 12 percent liking him on their second choice.
“Of course, had he continued to campaign, he might have moved the needle,” pollster J. Ann Selzer told the Des Moines Register. “But as of now, few are longing for him.”