Thursday, August 18, 2011

T-Paw missed his moment

Tim PawlentyLooking back at the 2008 Presidential election it's hard for me not to conclude that Barack Obama's March 18th speech on race was the most important single moment for his candidacy. Certainly without his 2004 Democratic Convention speech he likely doesn't even get to that point in the first place, but without the speech on race, at the height of the Jeremiah Wright controversy, he would probably not be President now.

Tim Pawlenty's 2011 Presidential campaign has a similarly singular moment you can point to as the end and it wasn't the Iowa straw poll.

I wrote this on June 8th in response to a PPP poll that showed Pawlenty in double digits for the first time:

This is the best showing for Tim Pawlenty in a national poll so far, going from only 5% on May 10th into the low double digits in three weeks. This rise in his support coincides with his official campaign announcement and subsequent media blitz, so it could be a temporary spike, or it could be upward momentum, we'll have to wait and see.

Four days later, on Fox News, Pawlenty uttered a line perfectly designed to destroy Mitt Romney, "ObamneyCare." It seemed like Tim Pawlenty had finally taken the gloves off and would start attacking the front runner. Not only the front runner, but a candidate who occupied almost the same exact political space as him.

And the very next day is the day his campaign died.

KING: And you don’t want to address why you called Governor Romney’s Obamneycare?

PAWLENTY: Well, the issue that was raised in a question from a reporter was, what are the similarities between the two? And I just cited President Obama’s own words that he looked to Massachusetts as a blueprint or a guide when he designed Obamacare.

KING: But you chose — you say you were asked a question, which is fair enough, but you chose those words. And so one of my questions is, why would you chose those — choose those words maybe in the comfort of a Sunday show studio? Your rival is standing right there. If it was Obamneycare on “Fox News Sunday,” why isn’t it not Obamneycare standing here with the governor right there?

PAWLENTY: It — President Obama is — is the person who I quoted in saying he looked to Massachusetts for designing his program. He’s the one who said it’s a blueprint and that he merged the two programs. And so using the term “Obamneycare” was a reflection of the president’s comments that he designed Obamacare on the Massachusetts health care plan.

KING: All right.

This well publicized failure to forcefully push a meme designed to undermine his main competition is the reason Tim Pawlenty is no longer in the race now.

From a great Real Clear Politics article on the subject:

His top strategists knew immediately that he’d blown it, but not quite how much damage it had done: It turned out that the Pawlenty communications shop had tipped the journalists covering the New Hampshire debate that Pawlenty would press the “Obamneycare” line of attack, which ensured a bigger pushback from the punditry. And the finance folks soon reported back that the reaction from prospective donors was devastating.

And that is why Tim Pawlenty decided to go all-in, so to speak, on the non-event that was the Iowa Straw Poll. With the money drying up the decision was made that they had to do something.

“After the New Hampshire debate, we looked at each other and asked, what’s the next event where we can change the narrative?” recalled campaign manager Nick Ayers. “It was the Ames straw vote. We basically went all-in.”

And that was that. You can certainly question the strategy, but under the circumstances I can see why they decided it was their only option, even if the chances of success weren't great.

Tim Pawlenty had his shot, but he blew it, and that fateful night in New Hampshire will likely haunt him for the rest of his life.

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