Pawlenty has opted to log countless hours on the ground in the Hawkeye State, meeting one-on-one with voters at stop after stop. It is a strategy, he hopes, that will pay dividends come the winter, even though, at the moment, he appears to be a candidate more out of the spotlight than in it. He hit New Hampshire -- site of the nation's first primary -- recently where he will face an uphill battle against Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Even then, most of the attention was directed westward, at Alaska, where tens of thousands of Palin's emails were dumped into the arms of the awaiting media.
Despite all the talk about who's not in the race at this point -- Palin, Trump, Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. Paul Ryan, Mike Huckabee and Mitch Daniels -- Stanley Kurtz argued in National Review online that the candidate who could, and should, emerge as the GOP nominee is staring Republicans right in the face.
"Tim Pawlenty is a great candidate," Kurtz wrote. "It's just plain nuts not to see this, emphasize it, and take advantage of it. Instead of pining away for Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan or Scott Walker to enter the race, why not wake up and recognize that Tim Pawlenty has already got everything the GOP is looking for; with two successful gubernatorial terms worth of experience to boot. What's not to like?
"Tim Pawlenty has already beaten the Democrats in a government shut-down battle. He's defeated public-employee unions in a high-stakes strike. He was regularly rated as one of the most fiscally conservative governors in the nation. And he managed to do it all in a blue state."
Few people know politics in the state of Minnesota better than Jacobs of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, and Jacobs believes Pawlenty will be a force to be reckoned with.
"One of the things about him is he makes very few unforced errors," Jacobs said in an interview with ABC News. "Compare that to a guy like Newt Gingrich who in the first hours of his campaign had practically slit his throat. You start to go through all the candidates; almost all of them have really fatal flaws. Pawlenty doesn't have a fatal flaw.
"This is not a frivolous effort. He's very smart. Before he does something he thinks it through very thoroughly. He's someone with a lot of confidence in himself. He's had a lot of success. And that's going to take him pretty far, especially when you look at the other candidates. Now he may not be the first choice of many of the donors and the primary and caucus voters, but he could be their second or third choice. And he's the only candidate, I think, who checks off as a true social conservative."
One of the main knocks on Pawlenty is that he lacks the charisma necessary to unite the Republican base and win the GOP nomination. There's even a website that tries to pounce on the argument that Pawlenty is simply too bland. But that's not so, Jacobs said.
"To be honest, I think that says more about the current definition of charisma than it does about Pawlenty," he said. "No one who is serious about Minnesota politics and really knew what was going on would have described Pawlenty as bland. He was a guy in Minnesota during his eight years as governor who dominated, who would light up a room, who set an agenda."