Iowa Poll “Very Good News for Pawlenty”?

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More than a week after his official campaign kickoff that included a tour through multiple morning shows and several cities, Tim Pawlenty still has plenty of work to do. In order to capture the nomination, Pawlenty needs to win or do very well in Iowa, but a new survey released today from Public Policy Polling shows him struggling to break through. But there may be a silver lining the former Minnesota governor.

PPP’s poll shows Mitt Romney to be the frontrunner in Iowa, with 21 percent. In second place are the maybe-candidate Sarah Palin and, remarkably enough, pizza mogul Herman “the Hermanator” Cain. Pawlenty, meanwhile, is at just 10% in PPP’s poll, despite having made several recent trips to Iowa–including one last Monday to formally announce his candidacy in Des Moines. (The PPP poll was conducted from May 27 to 30, after T-Paw’s highly-touted kickoff.) It’s true that Pawlenty rose 5 points since PPP last surveyed the state. But Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee have dropped out since then, and their support appears to have scattered across several candidates. Despite a surge in his visibility, in other words, evidence of PawMentum remains scarce.(Fortunately for him, PPP was able to find literally one Huntsman supporter.)

But digging deeper into the numbers, PPP’s Tom Jensen sees reason for hope. Pawlenty fared the strongest among all the GOP candidates in a hypothetical head-to-head Iowa matchup with Romney, tying him at 41%.

Pawlenty doesn’t poll the strongest head to head among Romney among ‘very conservative’ voters- he leads by 17 compared to a 21 point lead for Palin and a 24 point advantage for Bachmann with that group. But with center right voters- those calling themselves ‘somewhat conservative’- Romney leads Pawlenty by just a single point while he has a 19 point advantage over Palin and a 22 point lead over Bachmann with that group. What that says to me is that many Republicans are looking for someone more conservative than Romney but someone who isn’t bound to get creamed in the general election the way Palin, Bachmann, and Cain probably would. That’s very good news for Pawlenty if it ever plays itself out in real life.

Of course, Pawlenty almost certainly won’t get a one-on-one shot against Romney in Iowa. But this analysis underscores his larger dilemma. To win in Iowa, Pawlenty needs to prove his conservative bona fides for those hard-right voters gravitating to the likes of Michele Bachmann (at 11% in the PPP poll) and Herman Cain. At the same time, his best argument for the nomination is probably based on electability, and his potential appeal to the center. Those two arguments don’t naturally go hand in hand. Pawlenty’s fate could depend on how well he finesses them.