The Weekly Standard‘s Steve Hayes visits the state and poses the critical question. Hayes doesn’t offer much in the way of a convincing answer, but his story has one very good insight. Hayes seems sympathetic to T-Paw, but also less than dazzled, and notes that, at times, “Pawlenty sounds more like a strategist than a candidate.” That rings true to me.
It’s worth remembering that Pawlenty got his start working for Republican politicians, and managed Minnesota Senator Dave Durenburger’s 1988 Senate re-election campaign. There’s something of the tactician to him, and something more tactical than historical about his candidacy (as my interview with him perhaps demonstrated). This fits with the sense many people seem to have that Pawlenty is a good candidate on paper, but somehow doesn’t bring the crowds to their feet.
Case in point is this priceless moment following a Pawlenty event in Council Bluffs:
As [two voters and I] were speaking, a middle-aged woman spied my notebook and interrupted us on her way out. “Un-in-spiring!” she said, rolling her eyes as she headed to the door.
Pawlenty has time to turn those perceptions around. But not a lot of time. And it won’t be easy without seeming to sacrifice his essential nice guy nature.