Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty at one time looked like a very good general election candidate...on paper. He set up a strong primary campaign organization in Iowa, was seen as a conservative, but effective governor of a liberal-leaning state, and was generally drama-free with blue-collar roots.
What has happened to cause his campaign to now be in guarded condition if not life support?
From my perspective, Pawlenty has several flaws/issues that are undermining his campaign.
1. He is not terribly well known or charismatic. Being "drama-free" can come across as boring or technocratic. A successful candidate needs some gravitas to energize supporters.
2. Michele Bachmann. She has energized social conservatives and has taken the momentum in the early state of Iowa where Pawlenty had hoped to springboard himself to the Republican nomination.
3. Poor early debate performance. Pawlenty hurt himself in the early going with last month's wishy-washy performance on the debate stage. He had a chance to go after Romney on healthcare and failed to do so. Minnesota nice did not serve him well.
These issues are creating some doubt over his long-term viability. This hurts him among donors, groups from whom early support is key, and creates the perception that he cannot win over the long haul.
A major test of Pawlenty's strength will be the Ames Iowa straw poll in August. He needs to do well to maintain his credibility going into the fall.
The good news for Pawlenty is that he can still be a credible alternative who may do well in a general election. Pragmatic primary voters faced with the prospects of a too conservative Bachman or a damaged Romney being the party nominee may well give "T-Paw" a second look.
Next week: second tier candidates Gingrich, Cain, and Huntsman - and why they have little chance of lasting. And remember, we still have to look at undeclared candidates Rick Perry and Sarah Palin!