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Tim Pawlenty Exits 2012 Presidential Race After Poor Iowa Showing

Tim Pawlenty made headlines Sunday but not the sort he had hoped to. He announced on ABC News' This Week that he has dropped out of the hunt for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination after coming in a disappointing third in Iowa's Ames Straw Poll.

His campaign, he said:

"... Obviously didn't get the kind of traction or lift that we needed coming out of the straw poll. We needed to get some lift to continue on and have a pathway forward. That didn't happen. So I'm announcing this morning ... that I'm going to be ending my campaign for president."

Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, had staked his entire flagging campaign on a strong showing in the straw poll, hoping that finishing first or a strong second would boost his prospects enough so he could raise money to keep going.

But that didn't happen. Representatives Michele Bachman, also of Minnesota, and Ron Paul of Texas came in first and second Saturday.

Meanwhile, the entrance of Texas Gov. Rick Perry into the race at or near the top of the pack, just added to the forces on Pawlenty to quit the race. Perry is making a strong claim to many of the same fiscal conservatives Pawlenty had hoped to energize. So the horizon had gotten considerably gloomier for Pawlenty.

When he entered the race, T-Paw was seen as one of the candidates who had the best chance of making himself a reasonable conservative alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney.

He had a conservative fiscal record as Minnesota's governor and didn't have the albatross of a health insurance reform with individual mandates hanging around his neck like Romney.

But Pawlenty didn't use that to his advantage. In the first debate in which he shared a stage with Romney, he inexplicably failed to follow-up a pre-debate attack on Romney for what Pawlenty called Obamneycare. That hurt Pawlenty with voters seeking a GOP nominee they could count on to go after Obama fiercely.

It caused some to speculate that perhaps Pawlenty was thinking ahead to being Romney's vice presidential pick.

But his now-proven failure to energize many voters probably argues against that unless the eventual Republican nominee sees gaining Minnesota's electoral votes as crucial to wining the White House.

Perhaps Pawlenty's greatest contribution to the race was a memorable line he likely would have used in other states with large rural areas if he had stayed in the race: he recently began likening President Obama's policies to a manure spreader in a windstorm. Try as you might, it's hard to get that image out of your mind.

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.