Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota may not be very famous right now but look out. He’s going to come on strong. With Mike Huckabee’s decision not to run and Sarah Palin’s likely decision to follow, Pawlenty is the only hi-profile evangelical Christian in the GOP presidential sweepstakes.
Now understand this, according to one poll, 60% of the caucus goers in Iowa are born again Christians. 48% of the nation. It is how George H. W. Bush, born in Massachusetts, raised in Connecticut, a patrician establishment figure, won the presidency in a landslide in 1988. He lost the Jewish vote, the Hispanic vote, the African American vote, hey, he was the first modern president to be elected and still arguably lose the Catholic vote. But he secretly focused on evangelicals and carried 81% of the born again vote, trouncing Governor Michael Dukakis. I know the history well, I was the point man, reporting to his son, George W. Bush.
Consider the following. In Iowa, the 40% non evangelical vote will be split by Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Gary Johnson and a gaggle of non politicians such as Herman Cain. Unless Michelle Bachman gets in the race, Pawlenty will have a claim on the whole 60%, although the others will surely make an effort. And even with Congresswoman Bachman in the race, Sarah Palin has made it clear she will only endorse a governor. It was always thought she meant Huckabee. Now, Pawlenty, the only born again Christian governor in the race, may be her choice.
Donald Trump’s initial overtures to evangelicals were laughable, almost endearing in their naiveté. “I am a Christian,” the Donald intoned seriously to the Christian Broadcasting Network, “And I never, never miss church on Easter and Christmas. Never.”
Not only is it appearing that Pawlenty will have the evangelical vote as a base all to himself, but it appears that the other relevant constituencies will be split. Consider Romney’s delima. If Jon Huntsman runs it will split the tiny Mormon vote. Not a big vote to be sure but powerful for fundraising and organizing and a crucial activist base for Romney in the soon to follow – must win – Nevada contest. If Romney gets beat In Iowa and comes in anywhere but first in Nevada, he may not even survive to New Hampshire where his money is expected to make a big difference. (A well heeled candidate can buy television time on Boston stations which blanket New Hampshire.)
Then there is my favorite, Ron Paul. He is the Tea party – libertarian – constitutional GOP candidate. But Ron Paul has done such a good job of changing the discourse in the nation that he has inspired other libertarians into the race. Former New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson is in and Congresswoman Michelle Bachman may soon announce. It will split the emerging GOP libertarian vote into three pieces. Again, while Pawlenty has the massive born-againers vote all to himself.
It gets worse, or better if you are a Pawlenty fan. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum split the Catholic – right to life vote in Iowa.
And finally, keep in mind, Governor Tim Pawlenty is from Minnesota, a state that borders Iowa, making him the regional candidate as well. Many Iowas know all about Pawlenty, they saw him on cable television that carries stations from Minneapolis – St. Paul.
Make no mistake, there will be a fight for the evangelical vote. Gingrich, a recent convert to the Catholic faith, will fight Pawlenty step by step and already has a head start. David Lane and other top evangelical activists lean to Gingrich and he may also have the Fox News Channel mantle, maybe even Huckabee’s favor.
Pawlenty may not do what needs to be done. Evangelical candidates sometimes think that they will automatically win that vote. born again Democrat and incumbent president Jimmy Carter did in 1980, only waking up to the problem too late. So Pawlenty must actually meet evangelical leaders of influence nationwide, not just in Iowa, for this group, like African American’s follow their leaders. But theoretically, they are now Pawlenty’s votes to lose if he will take the time to go after them.
His strategy will be clear. Win Iowa, which will stir up a Pawlenty media mania, “who is this new guy,” allowing him to stay in the running in Nevada and New Hampshire and then win again in South Carolina and the rest of the South, where evangelicals roost. (The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in America and 90% of its membership live in 13 southern states) .
With Hucakabee out of the race and providing that Sarah Palin follows the Huck into retirement and the television – lecture circuit, it is all doable for Pawlenty. You have been warned, this obscure, quiet governor from the Midwest may just come roaring to the front of the pack. The pieces are in place for a dark horse, Tim Pawlenty, upset in Iowa and you just may be able to ride that dark horse all the way to the White House.
This is part of a continuing series on the 2012 candidates:
(Wednesday I will be announcing my own favorite for president.)