When Tim Pawlenty went on “Fox News Sunday” before the first debate in New Hampshire and referred to Mitt Romney‘s health care plan as “Obamneycare” and then backed away from saying that to Romney’s face the very next day during the debate, he came across as weak and feeble.
Headlines about how his campaign was sputtering ensued, and much of those were legit because donors and activists, many of whom already had doubts about whether Pawlenty was tough enough to take on Obama, shied away from strongly considering Pawlenty after that debate.
In an effort to swing the momentum back on his side, Pawlenty again attacked someone who was ahead of him in the polls on a Sunday talk show.
This time, Pawlenty attacked Michele Bachmann‘s lack of legislative accomplishments on “Meet The Press.”
When asked what differentiated him from Bachmann, Pawlenty said:
… her record of accomplishment in Congress is non-existent. It’s non-existent. So, we’re not looking for folks who just have a speech capability. We’re looking for people who can lead a large enterprise in a public setting and drive it to conclusion. I’ve done that. She hasn’t.
In a statement later in the evening, Bachmann stated she was going to ignore the “negativity,” which was a reference to Pawlenty’s comments earlier in the day. By not directly engaging Pawlenty, Bachmann acted like the frontrunner that she is in Iowa. Further, it also could have indicated that she is more ahead of Pawlenty than even her favorable polling numbers indicate.
Since announcing her official candidacy during the New Hampshire debate, Bachmann has hit many of her marks. After kicking off her campaign in Iowa, she drew hundreds of enthusiastic people to her campaign events in South Carolina. She has highlighted her social and fiscal conservative laurels.
There have been a few stumbles along the way. She mistook the birthplace of John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s and suggested John Quincy Adams was a founding father.
Bachmann’s husband has been attacked by the left for his controversial counseling activities in which he has tried to convert gay people back to being straight.
Bachmann, though, talks bluntly and has been on the right side of most of the issues conservatives care about. This is the reason why, despite some missteps, she has seen her poll numbers climb in Iowa and New Hampshire. Granted, those polls did not include potential presidential contest entrants Rick Perry and Sarah Palin.
Pawlenty, who has been messaging on the “results not rhetoric” theme, seems to think that Bachmann’s lack of legislative accomplishments and executive experience makes her a showhorse instead of a workhorse.
Pawlenty needs a strong finish in the Ames Straw Poll next month for his campaign to not be on life support. Since Romney is not participating in the poll, some of the more establishment voters are likely to go to him. To exceed expectations, though, Pawlenty will need to peel off some of Bachmann’s voters, and yesterday’s attacks on Bachmann suggest he knows that.
Pawlenty has seasoned operatives and organizers on the ground in Iowa. He seems to be the second choice of many voters. His likeability scores are consistently high, but people do not intensely like him.
Pawlenty’s challenge going forward will be to convince voters that his plainness can be a direct contrast from Obama’s flashiness in a general election, and that could allow Pawlenty to beat Obama. Or, Pawlenty will need to find a way to get voters who merely like him to strongly like him to the point.
It will be interesting to see if Pawlenty also ends up trying to cut down Bachmann and make her lack of executive experience and legislative accomplishments a bigger issue in the campaign.