Fellow Minnesota native Tim Palenty is in almost the exact opposite position. The former governor has been languishing in the polls. A slew of "pre-obituaries" for his campaign have appeared in the national media.
But write off Pawlenty at your peril. His campaign has the type of field organization in Iowa that his rivals simply cannot match at the moment. And he has gone all in for Ames, embarking on a two-week RV tour around the state and launching a slew of TV ads. Later this week he heads out on another eight-day tour, planning to cover 1,366 miles as he hits 26 cities in 21 counties.
By the time mid-August rolls around Pawlenty will have reportedly spent around $1 million on his campaign effort in Iowa. The campaign's even hawked Pawlenty hockey sweaters after the former governor played a pick-up game in Urbandale last month.
"I may not be Wayne Gretzky, but I certainly held my own, including scoring a goal," Pawlenty said in a fundraising email to supporters.
In interviews, Pawlenty has tried to play down expectations for Ames, talking up Bachmann as "clearly the frontrunner" and dialing down his own chances, despite the recent war of words between the two campaigns.
"Our goal is to move from the back of the pack to towards the front of the pack," he told ABC News after a recent campaign event in Muscatine, Iowa. "The Des Moines Register poll is the most respected poll in this state, and they had us in sixth or seventh place. Our goal is to try to move up to something closer to the front. I don't think we need to win it, but we need to show progress and I'm confident we will."
Another contender not to be underestimated is Ron Paul. The Texas congressman easily won a Republican Leadership Conference straw poll in New Orleans earlier this summer.
More than 100 people came out for a Paul event in Cedar Rapids two weeks ago, a sign that his supporters could make some real noise at the straw poll. Next week he is setting out on a two-day swing through the state with son Rand, a U.S. senator. The Paul campaign is proclaiming the visit as the first known instance of an incumbent congressman campaigning for the presidency with his son, an incumbent senator.
While he is not seen as a top contender, Santorum has been making a late push for Ames. The former Pennsylvania senator brought his family to Iowa in late July to embark on a state-wide tour. At a breakfast event in Ankeny, he wooed the small crowd to come to Ames with the promise that he would be dishing out homemade peach jam.
And Herman Cain will make a "Common Sense Solutions" bus tour and launch a weekly radio show. Cain has said he needs a top-three finish in Ames.