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Morning Jay: Tim Pawlenty's Path to the Republican Nomination

6:00 AM, Mar 24, 2011 • By JAY COST
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3. Manage Expectations in Iowa. Since Pawlenty hails from Minnesota, pundits are going to judge his candidacy early on by how well he performs in Iowa. It will be an early strategic imperative for Pawlenty to tamp down on this tendency, as Iowa could be a problem for him. The Iowa caucus sports very low turnout, and its constituency does not look like the rest of the Republican electorate. In 2008, 60 percent of Republican caucus goers were self-identified “born-again Christians,” compared with just 39 percent in the Florida primary. Additionally 45 percent called themselves “very conservative,” compared with 27 percent in the Sunshine State.

Regional affinity aside, these voters are probably not the natural constituency for Tim Pawlenty, especially if Mike Huckabee gets into the race. Thus, it will be important for Pawlenty not to allow the media – or the party establishment – to settle on the idea that he “must” win Iowa. If Pawlenty wins the nomination, it will probably come through places like New Hampshire, Michigan, and Ohio – not Iowa. Ideally, what he’d want is for the media to call him an effective winner with a strong second place showing in the Hawkeye State, which should be his goal.

In conclusion, it would be highly inadvisable to confuse Pawlenty’s mild-mannered nature for electoral weakness. In fact, it might just be the opposite. Pawlenty as a candidate could be an ideal second choice for the party’s nomination, in many voters' eyes. But that could work to his advantage: In many cycles, that’s what it comes down to, and 2012 doesn’t really appear to have an obvious first choice. And so, Pawlenty’s goal over the next 10 months should be to hang in there until the Republican party winds its way over to him.

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