, WASHINGTON, Aug 14 – Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty announced Sunday he is dropping out of the Republican presidential contest, after a distant third place finish in a key test vote.
Pawlenty made the announcement after finishing third with a disappointing 2,293 votes Saturday in Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll, over 2,500 votes behind winner Representative Michele Bachmann and second place finisher Ron Paul.
The nonbinding survey is seen as a key indicator of who is best positioned to win the first batch of early nominating contest next year, and Pawlenty had hoped a strong showing would breathe new life into his campaign.
But despite weeks of heavy campaigning, Pawlenty’s message “didn’t get the kind of traction or lift that we needed and hoped for coming into and out of the Ames straw poll,” he told ABC’s “This Week,” a political talk show.
“That didn’t happen. So I’m announcing on your show that I’m going to be ending my campaign for president.”
The low-key Pawlenty — derided by detractors as bland — was little known outside of Minnesota despite serving two terms as Republican governor of a largely Democratic “blue” state. He had hoped to position himself as a fiscal conservative who would shake up Washington.
US media said Pawlenty, who had been considering a presidential run for years, had thanked his supporters in an early-morning call, saying he had decided to leave the 2012 race overnight.
Pawlenty, 50, said he would likely endorse one of his former rivals, but declined to indicate which one or say when he would make his decision.
After staking his campaign on a strong showing in Iowa, the first state in the nation to vote in nominating contests, Pawlenty failed to gain enough traction there and was overshadowed by Bachmann, a fellow Minnesotan and favorite of the ultraconservative Tea Party movement.
With big donors and bundlers likely throwing their resources behind Bachmann, an Iowa native, and Texas Governor Rick Perry, who launched his presidential campaign Saturday on strong social conservative credentials, Pawlenty acknowledged a “disappointing” short-lived run.
“There’s a lot of other choices in the race,” Pawlenty said.
“I think the audience, so to speak, was looking for something different… But I do believe that we’re going to have a very good candidate who’s going to beat (President) Barack Obama.”
He said a “qualified” Bachmann would be “tested” during the bruising Republican nomination process.
“She’s going to have to make her case,” Pawlenty said.
Fresh from her straw poll win, Bachmann offered praise to Pawlenty, but said voters were looking for “someone authentic” like her to send a small government message to Washington.
“I’m talking about what people really care about… They really want someone they can trust and can believe in,” she told ABC.
An evangelical Christian, Pawlenty, a married father of two daughters, was trained as a labor lawyer before being elected governor.
He first gained national prominence during the 2008 presidential campaign as a finalist to become Senator John McCain’s vice presidential nominee, though then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin eventually made the cut.
Asked whether he might consider becoming the running mate of one of his former rivals, Pawlenty said no thanks.
“I’ve been down that road before,” he said. “That’s not something I’m even going to consider.”
Bachmann won 4,823 votes, or around 28.5 percent of the 16,892 ballots in the Iowa poll, outgunning the 4,671 votes or 27.6 percent of Tea Party “intellectual godfather” Ron Paul, and Pawlenty’s 13.6 percent.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, until now seen as the front-runner for the nomination, was seventh with just 567 votes, or almost 3.4 percent.
Without even taking part officially in the straw poll, Perry still managed to beat Romney, with 718 votes, or 3.6 percent, as a write-in candidate.