Pawlenty Draws an Ace

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‘Tis the season for 2012 hopefuls to staff up their campaigns, and Tim Pawlenty has made a minor splash today by signing on the young GOP star Nick Ayers. Ayers, whom we touted in our “40 Under 40” package last fall (he’s just 28), is one of his party’s most celebrated young talents–in part thanks to his stewardship of a Republican Governors’ Association that raised and spent more than $100 million in the 2010 cycle.

The hire may also be significant because Ayers worked at the RGA under its chairman, Haley Barbour, who happens to be one of Pawlenty’s chief rivals for the nomination. There’s some dispute this morning as to whether this says anything about whether Barbour will actually dive into the race, although it’s worth noting that the Mississippi Governor with be taking his southern drawl up to flinty New Hampshire this week, which should provide an entertaining study in cultural contrasts (and cultural overlap: One of Barbour’s Thursday stops will be at a gun shop in Hookset. Pawlenty will be in the Granite State this week, too, before dropping in on a big Tea Party rally in Boston on Friday.)

Ayers, by dint of his age and his reputation, will earn Pawlenty insider buzz–and perhaps more important, bring his great fundraising contacts. But it’s not clear how many campaigns are ever won or lost by the quality of their managers. Certainly you need to meet some basic level of competence, and chemistry with the candidate and his other top staffers doesn’t hurt. But the widely revered Bill Daley couldn’t save Al Gore in a photo-finish 2000 race, and McCain’s 2008 manager, Rick Davis, was no political klutz either.

Other top T-Paw aides include former Romney ’08 political strategist Phil Musser, fundraisers Brian Haley and Katie McBreen (late of the ’08 McCain and Romney campaigns, respectively) and ex-RNC spokesman and bus enthusiast Alex Conant.