Is Tim Pawlenty the Process-of-Elimination Candidate?

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That’s part of the takeaway from Crowley’s magazine profile, hitting newsstands Friday:

But in a strange way, the stars could be aligning for Pawlenty. It’s been said that the 2012 Republican campaign has been a gong show, featuring more dropouts than volunteers. (Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour and Trump have all stepped back in recent weeks, and Sarah Palin is a question mark at best.) After months of uncertainty, the GOP field seems to have congealed around a handful of candidates who could plausibly win the nomination: Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and the consensus front runner, Mitt Romney. “Pawlenty is a very credible candidate for the nomination,” says former GOP chairman Ed Gillespie. “I would not be surprised if at the end of the day it comes down to him and somebody else.” In an unusually weak 2012 Republican field, it’s just possible that Tim Pawlenty will be the last Republican standing.

The “somebody else,” as Crowley goes on to point out, is probably Romney. Pawlenty’s path to a nomination squarely depends on uniting Republicans uncomfortable with elements of Romney’s much fussed-over history. And that, essentially, is how Pawlenty is selling himself:

“I think I’m the one candidate in the race who can unite and excite the whole conservative movement and the Republican Party,” he says, arguing that he can appeal at once to conservatives focused on social issues, the budget and national security. “I think most of the other candidates are going to appeal to one of those buckets. But I can appeal to all of them deeply and authentically, and I’ve got the record to back it up.”