With Michele Bachmann generating enthusiasm and Mitt Romney lapping the field in hauling in campaign money, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has languished of late both in terms of traction on the ground, which his sluggish debate performance did not help, and in generating the requisite buzz that usually accompanies top tier candidates.
Today, the Pawlenty campaign announced that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, would join the campaign and immediately take the lead in the campaign’s Iowa Straw Poll effort in the critical first in the nation caucus state.
“Sarah is a results-oriented person with a great track record in Iowa and around the country,” Gov. Pawlenty said in a statement. “ We are very excited Sarah is joining our team just as we are hitting our stride in Iowa.”
Said Huckabee Sanders in a statement: “I’m delighted to join the Governor and First Lady in Iowa, which holds a special place in my heart … It’s clear to me that Gov. Pawlenty has what it takes to unite the party, unite the country and beat President Obama.”
In the 2008 campaign cycle, Huckabee Sanders orchestrated Gov. Huckabee’s surprise victory in the Iowa caucauses as his national political director.
More importantly, Huckabee Sanders’ hire shows how critical the Ames Straw Poll and the Iowa caucauses will be in determining Pawlenty’s fate. If Pawlenty performs poorly in either, it is difficult to see a plausible path for victory for a candidate who lacks the fervent grassroots support of a Sarah Palin, the fundraising prowess and independent wealth of a Mitt Romney, the mainstream media acclaim and buzz of a Jon Huntsman, or the buzz-generating sloganeering and red meat throwing of a Michele Bachmann.
Don’t count Pawlenty out though.
Pawlenty has a compelling life’s story. He has a dynamic wife who can compliment him on the campaign trail and stump for him.
In the weeks ahead, Pawlenty will have to find his groove.
Namely, Pawlenty has to play up his working class roots and how those roots are not incompatible with the “Mr. Republican” type of campaign that he seems to be running or decide upon how he is going to brand himself and stick with it.
If Pawlenty can find a compelling message that starts to resonate with Iowans, he will have advantages over some of the other, more poorly organized candidates on the ground in Iowa.
He has a savvy new media team combined with veteran operatives that are able to hit the right notes. Pawlenty’s new media strength was evident this weekend when Pawlenty released an Independence Day ad and today when his team began airing a television spot released highlighting his battle with unions in Minnesota.
Further, since Romney will not participate in the Straw Poll, there are potential voters to be organized, and Pawlenty’s team seems suited to capitalize on the absence of big name Republicans such as Romney and Gingrich.
The hiring of Huckabee’s daughter is the clearest sign that Pawlenty’s team knows that it is “go time” for his campaign.