It’s always a bad sign when a candidate for President of the United States makes the case that he is actually doing worse in the polls than he is. Here is Tim Pawlenty on Fox News Sunday:
CHRIS WALLACE: You, as we just said, are third in the polls now, somewhat distant, but you are third. Don’t you have to finish at least third in Ames to remain a credible candidate?
PAWLENTY: I thought you said I was not third earlier, Chris.
WALLACE: No, no. I said you were third.
PAWLENTY: Well, in “The Des Moines Register” poll, which I think, by most accounts, is the credible benchmark poll here in Iowa, had me in sixth or seventh place just a few weeks ago. So our goal is to move from the back of the pack standing to something closer to the front. I don’t think we need to win it, but we do need to show good progress, and I’m confident that we will as that record from Minnesota that I talked about continues to get out.
The back story here is that there is a solid chance Pawlenty will come in third in the Ames Straw Poll, which will deal his campaign a serious blow, though he wants to be able to portray such a failure as a victory. Clearly, Michele Bachmann has taken a lot of the grassroots enthusiasm from his campaign, and Ron Paul, whose small following is among the most motivated in American political history, is going full-out for a victory.
So Pawlenty is defining success downwards, in a fashion that is starting to look sort of desperate. (Rule of thumb for politicians: When you say things you don’t believe to be true, voters tend to punish you.) For the record, that Des Moines Register poll showed Pawlenty in sixth place, which the candidate surely knows, not seventh. (It is more accurate to say that he is in a three-way tie for fourth place, with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, who are both at 7%, while Pawlenty draws 6%.) But the poll was taken before Pawlenty’s latest blitz of the state. Since then there have been three polls taken of likely voters in the state. Each of them has shown Pawlenty in third place, or tied for third place. Pawlenty surely knows this as well.