WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty became the first major casualty in the marathon U.S. presidential campaign on Sunday while fellow Republicans Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry built momentum in the race.
Pawlenty, once seen as a strong contender for the Republican nomination to face Democratic President Barack Obama in the Novem-ber 2012 election, dropped out a day after a disappointing showing in Iowa’s straw poll, a key early test of strength among his party’s candidates.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the early front-runner in the Republican race, but he must fend off a surging Bachmann — who won the poll — and Perry, the governor of Texas who announced his candidacy on Saturday in South Carolina.
Some experts felt Romney may benefit most from the departure of Pawlenty — neither of whom are favorites of the conservative Tea Party movement that likes Bachmann and Perry.
Pawlenty touted a record of balancing the budget, cutting spending and down-sizing government in Minnesota, but his “nice guy” image failed to gain traction after entering the race in May, particularly among Republican conservatives. “I wish it would have been different. But, obviously, the pathway forward for me doesn’t really exist. And so we’re going to end the campaign,” Pawlenty told the ABC program “This Week” after his distant third-place finish in the Iowa straw poll.
“You know, I’m from a small state. I don’t have a big national financial network or political network,” he said.
Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll on Saturday with 29 percent of the vote, with Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas, was second with 28 percent and Pawlenty at 14 percent. Romney was on the straw ballot but did not participate. The straw poll is a nonbinding mock election that serves as an early gauge of strength in the state that holds the first 2012 Republican nominating contest — the Iowa caucuses scheduled for next February.