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Tim Pawlenty and the 'Goldilocks' Strategy for the Republican Nomination

6:00 AM, Apr 1, 2011 • By JAY COST
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On the other hand, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney could be less appealing to the base of conservative voters. Huntsman's problem is obvious: his association with the Obama administration will be a big problem for him. With Rommey, it is an ironic situation; he dominated among very conservative voters in 2008 (at least in the North), but with health care now a highly salient issue, he is going to have trouble with them.

Haley Barbour seems like he will have trouble on both fronts. As a governor from the deep South, he could have a hard time appealing to the more moderate Republicans in the Northeast and the West. His previous profession as a lobbyist could hurt him with more conservative voters, too. (Admittedly, it is hard to get a handle on the prospects of a Barbour candidacy at this point.)

Meanwhile, Pawlenty has a reasonably conservative record as governor of Minnesota (without the obvious hang-ups that plague Huntsman and Romney), but his disposition and temperament should make him appealing to moderate voters. He might not have the most enthusiastic supporters, of course, compared to his opponents. Even so, this kind of "Goldilocks" strategy is a strong one in the GOP nomination battle, and Pawlenty could be well positioned to execute that kind of maneuver.

Now, caveats abound. First, it matters who ultimately enters the field. Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, and Paul Ryan could all be potential Goldilocks candidates, too, and they each would probably attract stronger intensity from their supporters than Pawlenty could.

Additionally, some of the other candidates might solve their problems of being "too hot" or "too cold." Bachmann, Gingrich, Huckabee, and Santorum will probably have a difficult time doing this, as they all face a "must win" situation in Iowa. They can all, accordingly, be expected all to run to the right over the next eight months, leaving them little time to pivot into the more broader based primary battles. The candidates with a better chance of solving their problems would be Huntsman and Romney. As Jim Geraghty argued a few weeks ago, Huntsman could appeal to conservative voters by becoming a kind of "whistleblower" candidate, the former insider who exposes how incompetent the Obama administration has been. Romney, meanwhile, could solve his problem by finding a reasonably effective way to distance himself from Obamacare (either by disavowing the Massachusetts program or by distinguishing it from the national program the Democrats put in place last year), then by focusing like a laserbeam on the economy, which is a strong issue for him.

Another caveat is that Pawlenty must excel at the race for campaign cash, and really the only way to do that is to woo the party elite (broadly defined) who make up the "invisible primary." In the nomination as it has developed in the years since the reforms of the 1970s, the elites usually converge on a couple candidates, thereby winnowing the effective field down before the voters make a choice. We can see the results of that winnowing process in each candidate's list of endorsements, and especially the quarterly reports to the Federal Elections Commission: the more elite support, the more endorsements the candidate will earn and the more money he will raise. On this front, Pawlenty seems to be off to a good start. National Journal's poll of Republican insiders still shows Romney leading the pack, but Pawlenty is closing fast. If he can translate this into high-profile endorsements and solid fundraising hauls, he'll be a real factor in the game.

At a minimum, we can say that the ultimate Republican nominee will probably win by forging a (relatively) broad coalition -- one that connects Republicans of different ideological stripes. In the coming months, we should watch closely to see which candidates seem to be doing exactly that.

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