Is Pawlenty overrated?

A new poll is getting plenty of attention in these parts because it purports to show Gov. Tim Pawlenty getting little love from his home state in a poll of potential presidential candidates.

The Public Policy Polling survey showed Pawlenty gets 19% of the vote in his home state in a mythical election today that would include Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Mitt Romney.

According to the firm’s blog


Tim Pawlenty leads the field in his home state of Minnesota but his performance is surprisingly weak. He gets 19% with Palin right on his heels at 18%, Huckabee at 14%, and Gingrich and Romney each getting 11%. These numbers are reflective of the overall trouble we found for Pawlenty at home in our final preelection poll of the state- his approval rating was under water and voters overwhelmingly said they didn’t think he should run for President. Partially because of Pawlenty’s declining popularity Democrats seem to have picked up the Governor’s office there in an otherwise awful year for the party.

Two words: Prove it.

In his initial run for office in 2002, Pawlenty captured 45 percent of the vote. Four years later, he garnered 46.7% of the vote.

As of this afternoon, Tom Emmer has 43% of the vote in this year’s election.

Is that Pawlenty’s fault? There’s little to suggest that. First, 2010 was the first election in which the Independence Party candidate could reasonably be expected to pull votes from the Republican candidate. In Pawlenty’s elections, both IP candidates — Tim Penny and Peter Hutchinson — are believed to have taken votes primarily from Democratic candidates.

There’s a fair chance that if a similar race were the dynamic in 2010, Emmer would be the new governor, especially since there’s absolutely no evidence that Pawlenty was a drag on most Republicans running for Legislature.

It’s true that Emmer has performed far worse than other Republican candidates in the statewide election. But Emmer’s negatives have been high, and the seat was open. In legislative races, there was a sitting Democrat to vote against.

Famed political prognosticator Nate Silver tweeted today, “More evidence that Pawlenty is overrated: he gets only 19% of GOP primary voters in Minnesota.”

It’s hard to say, for sure. Clearly Pawlenty has done little to shed the “also ran” status in nationwide polls. But Al Gore didn’t win his home state of Tennessee in 2000, and he came within a relative handful of votes to become president.

But Minnesota doesn’t really matter to Pawlenty in the presidential scheme of things. Candidates like him need to win — or perform strongly — in the early primary states, or the money dries up. Minnesota is not one of those states.

In the event that he ended up on a general election showdown with a Democrat, there’s little to suggest that he wouldn’t get at least 45 percent of the vote.

And, besides, it’s way too early to declare who doesn’t have a shot. Going into the Iowa caucuses, John McCain’s campaign was considered dead. In Arizona’s Republican primary, 48 percent of the state’s Republicans did not vote for eventual nominee, the senator from Arizona.

  • Rob

    Pawlenty is Romney light.

    Pawlenty has been so busy distancing himself from his past to run to the Far Right because he thinks he actually may have a chance to win the GOP nomination that he is looking like Romney.

    Is Pawlenty overrated? I don’t know of anyone who thinks he has been a particularly effective Governor and no one I know is just dying to vote for him for President.

    If he does jump into the 2012 race the Far Right candidates will savage him like they did to Romney and Pawlenty won’t have a chance to win in a nomination process that is heavily biased towards the Far Right and the True Far Right not the recent converts.

  • Chad

    The individual doesn’t matter in elections anymore– only R, D, and spin.

    The electorate is so ignorant and apathetic that I’d argue we no longer live in a democracy. Pawlenty? Who cares.

  • bsimon

    “In the event that he ended up on a general election showdown with a Democrat, there’s little to suggest that he wouldn’t get at least 45 percent of the vote.”

    I’d rephrase that to suggest that Pawlenty would likely get around 45% of the vote in Minnesota. As Bob notes, he’s never won a statewide majority, though with the caveat that his gubernatorial runs were 3 party affairs. On the other hand McCain only won 44% of the vote & no Repub presidential candidate was won the state in, well, nobody can remember when the last time was. I dare say Tim Pawlenty is no Walter Mondale.

    In any case, the Gov’s path to winning the nomination is yet undefined. While he’s making all the right moves with the party insiders on the fundraising circuit, its not at all clear he’ll be able to rally primary voters (and/or caucus goers) to his side when that time comes. Romney will be hardest to knock off, as the heir apparent who’s credibly run before & build a national organization – which is normally very predictive of whom the GOP will nominate. If, on the other hand, the TEA insurgents retain their enthusiasm & significantly impact the process, look for Palin to be their choice.

    In short, I don’t think Pawlenty can win the nomination, but I do think he can make a credible run for it; perhaps credible enough to be a 2016 front-runner, assuming there is no GOP incumbent that year.

  • Bob Collins

    //assuming there is no GOP incumbent that year.

    Obviously, it’s early. I assume Romney gets Michigan. Do you see Obama — or any other Dem — taking Ohio or Pennsylvania?

  • bsimon

    “Obviously, it’s early. I assume Romney gets Michigan. Do you see Obama — or any other Dem — taking Ohio or Pennsylvania?”

    If the election were held today, no. But the election is 720 days away, give or take. I expect the economy to be solidly in recovery mode by then, with jobs/unemployment finally catching up to the leading indicators we’re seeing now. If that’s the case, Romney will face long odds.

  • bob

    Unless Pawlenty gets a huge charisma infusion, his chances are nil.

    I also agree with Chad’s comment that we aren’t a democracy. Specifically, we have become a corpocracy, wherein wealthy individuals who can raise mega-millions of dollars compete to represent monied interests.

  • Dave B

    Run Tim, run…. far away from here.

    You have not shown any bipartisonship since your aspirations became known. This My Way or the Highway mentality is not what the nation needs. It certainly hasn’t worked in Minnesota, and it won’t work in Washington either, as is currently being demonstrated.

  • Dave B

    “If the election were held today, no. But the election is 720 days away, give or take. I expect the economy to be solidly in recovery mode by then, with jobs/unemployment finally catching up to the leading indicators we’re seeing now. If that’s the case, Romney will face long odds.”

    If the economy recovers, it’s Obama in a landslide. Same thing happened to Reagan and Clinton…

    People of this nation vote with their wallet, regardless of the long term effects of bad policy. It’s a real shame.

  • marc hugunin

    I would agree that Pawlenty is not over-rated in the sense that he is not held in high regard. He never won a majority in Minnesota, he only ran 2 points ahead of Emmer who most agree was a dreadful candidate.

    Does that mean he won’t win the nomination? Of course not. It’s a negative process. Candidates get voted off the island. And the Gingriches and Palins will get voted off first, I mean, the truly offensive types of characters. It could end up being Timmy versus Haley Barbour, then who the heck knows.

    But by then, the Congressional Republicans may have reminded independent voters the country-wide what is was they didn’t like about the GOP in ’06 and ’08. Pawlenty for president? 1 chance in a million.

  • camron

    Perhaps Tim Pawlenty should run for U.S. Senate in 2012 instead of president. I think that would be a better race, and fit, for him.