ABC News’ Michael Falcone ( @michaelpfalcone) reports:
URBANDALE, Iowa -- Less than a week before he competes in one of the early tests of his viability as a presidential candidate, Tim Pawlenty suggested that he’s a long-haul campaigner who is treating Saturday’s Ames Straw Poll as “an important measure” but “not the final measure” of his campaign’s success.
“From our standpoint, the ultimate goal here is the caucuses next January or February,” Pawlenty said on Monday. “And the Ames Straw Poll is a benchmark along the way to that journey.”
In recent days, Pawlenty has been careful to cite his sixth place finish in a Des Moines Register poll of the GOP primary field in June as a way of setting expectations for the Ames contest.
“Our goal is to try to move up substantially from there,” he said. “We haven’t put a number on what that means in terms of first second, third. Our goal, generally, is to show some good progress from towards the back of the pack to toward the front of the pack.”
Over breakfast with a small group of reporters at the Machine Shed restaurant in Urbandale on Monday morning, Pawlenty noted how seriously he was taking the straw poll (“We didn’t get sucked in, we dove in”) but downplayed it too -- it’s “just one measure,” he emphasized.
As he cut into an enormous cinnamon roll, Pawlenty drew a contrast with Donald Trump, who he pointed out “was going to be the next big thing,” but fizzled out after he passed on a presidential bid as well as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to enter the race.
“That’ll be all the buzz for a while,” he said of a Perry candidacy. “Over time these things settle.”
“My campaign is not a shooting star campaign,” Pawlenty said, adding later: “I’m not doing this to get a cable TV show or some sort of gig down the road. I’m doing it because the country’s in trouble, and we need real leadership to solve the real problems and that’s what I offer.”
Pawlenty’s campaign has been heavily focused on Iowa where he has spent considerable time and resources for months, running television and radio ads and sending direct mail to voters. The former Minnesota governor has a busy schedule of appearances across the state this week as he tries to differentiate himself, in particular, from Rep. Michele Bachmann who has catapulted ahead of him in national polls.
More questions and answers from Monday morning’s breakfast with Pawlenty:
Will you draw a sharper contrast with your opponents during Thursday’s GOP presidential debate?
“We’ll definitely have some contrast with other candidates, but the reality of it is, many of the candidates have many of the same issues. So, there are some issue contrasts with other candidates and they’ll be noted in the debate.”
Were you surprised that you didn’t get earlier traction in Iowa given that you are a “next door neighbor” candidate from Minnesota?
“I think the press really misunderstands the next door neighbor thing. Nobody votes for zip code. I mean I’ve never met one person who says, ‘I’m going to vote for or against you because you’re from a neighboring state.’ That’s largely a mythology that doesn’t really exist.”
Who bears the most responsibility for last week’s Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the nation’s credit rating -- President Obama or Congressional leaders?
“There was a couple of things that went into it. One was just the fundamental and structural problems with the finances of the United States’ federal government. And the second is the political dysfunction that is Washington, DC. … President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid made it exponentially worse. … There’s no question that Pelosi, Reid and Obama put the pedal to the metal on spending and put the numbers over the cliff.”
On Obama: “He seems uncapable or unwilling to lead in a concrete, bold way on the most pressing financial issues of our time. Namely, what are you going to do to get spending under control and specifically, what are you going to do on entitlement?”
How significant is the S&P downgrade?
“It makes for a very dangerous moment in terms of peoples’ outlook.”
Has the Obama administration offered a credible argument against the downgrade by S&P?
“They can fuss about the math error. I think S&P acknowledges that, but their point is it wasn’t about a partial math error, it was about something more fundamental and the downgrade remained. I think it would be fool’s gold for people to focus on a partial calculation error when the larger picture is obvious, has been years in the making and is undeniable. To say that we should take some great comfort because there was an internal math error in the initial calculation I think is fool’s gold, it’s really sophistry.”
Did you watch Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s prayer rally over the weekend?
How far should elected officials go in mixing religion and public life?
“This is a country that has a tradition, in its leadership and in the public square of stopping, acknowledging and thanking God for our blessings, for our liberties, for our privileges. And so I don’t think that is out of bounds for a leader, whether it be a governor or a legislator, member of Congress to reflect on our gratitude and our thanks to our creator, God. Now, how people do that, and in what tone, and in what setting it up to them.”
Has Mitt Romney been given a free pass this summer in terms of how he is being defined?
“These sweeping assumptions … about what the ultimate campaign is going to look like based on what’s going on in the summer before the summer of the campaign is almost laughable. … This thing will twist and turn six different times between now and next March, much less between now and next summer.”
“Mitt and Jon and others have made the decision to not participate -- not participate fully in this phase of the campaign in Iowa. That comes with some advantages I suppose for them, but it also comes with some disadvantages.”
Will the Massachusetts health care plan continue to be problematic for Romney?
“The fact that he continues to defend it, I think, is noteworthy. … We’ve all got some clunkers in our record. I think mine are fewer and less severe than most. But everybody’s got some clunkers, but the questions is how do you deal with those? Do you say, ‘yeah I goofed up and I made a mistake’ or do you double down?”
Is the Ames Straw Poll the best way to pick a president?
“It is the way. And I think overall, on average, over time the process works pretty well. … I didn’t have a built-in national brand, I don’t have a celebrity status, I don’t have personal wealth, I don’t have some comedic shtick. This has got to be done the real way, which is you gotta meet people and earn their support and earn their trust and earn their vote. You can’t buy Iowa. You know, money helps --- it helps to have some TV ads and some radio ads and some mail -- but in the end these are seasoned, informed involved people and they’ve been through this before. They want to meet you; they want to take the measure of you.”
Have you had enough resources to put on the best straw poll effort possible?
“Yeah, I think so.