The focus these days seems to be more on which Republican might run for president than who is actually running, as the battle for the GOP nomination heats up with the summer months. Sarah Palin's recent East Coast bus tour got more attention than Mitt Romney's formal campaign announcement. Texas Gov. Rick Perry's flirting with a possible run has grabbed more of the spotlight than Rep. Michele Bachmann's bid.
But one candidate who lurks under the radar has generated some speculation that he could ultimately be the last man standing: Tim Pawlenty.
"In any competition, it's important to know who the rivals are and having known Pawlenty and knowing something about the opponents, he's going to be formidable," Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said.
The former Minnesota governor formally threw his hat into the GOP campaign ring three weeks ago, launched a whirlwind week-long tour that took him from Iowa to Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, and trotted out a series of slick videos. He even unveiled an ambitious economic plan but has been overshadowed by all the talk about more high-profile Republicans, whether they are running for president or not.
You need look no further than the polls for evidence of how little Pawlenty has resonated with voters. In the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll, Pawlenty trailed President Obama by 11 points in a potential matchup for the White House. By comparison, Romney, the presumptive Republican front-runner, ran evenly with Obama. Overall, fewer than half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents -- 47 percent -- said they were satisfied with their choice of candidates for the party's nomination.
For a candidate who has to get off to a strong start in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses in eight months if he is to secure the nomination, Pawlenty, 50, clearly has a lot of ground to make up. Good thing he's got a lot of time to do it.
"Even now, only about 50 percent of the Republicans nationally even know my name," Pawlenty told ABC's Christiane Amanpour recently on "This Week." "So we have to get the name ID up and then convert that, of course, to support.
"But if you're a serious candidate for president, that will happen naturally over time. But I like the fact that most of the other candidates are really well known and yet they don't really have a strong front-running position, and that gives us time and space to be able to advance our campaign."
His campaign roll-out was a start. The five-day tour included 10 television appearances, five radio appearances, including one with Rush Limbaugh, and more than 200 reporters attending the four events that were open to the media, spokesman Alex Conant said.
In all, Conant added, the tour reached 50 million people directly and generated more than 150 stories. But it also received less coverage than it might have otherwise because of the disastrous tornado in Joplin, Mo., that killed 138 people. The very next week, Palin's bus tour, especially her high-profile meeting with Donald Trump in New York City, generated far more fanfare.
But some believe that helped Pawlenty, too.
Ari Fleischer, who served as White House spokesman under President George W. Bush, tweeted, "Something tells me Pawlenty gains [with] all the hype and drama around Palin and Trump. Sometimes slow and steady does win the race."