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.