By Stuart Rothenberg, Roll Call
In a Republican presidential race that could include the likes of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Mississippi Gov. (and former Republican National Committee Chairman) Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlentyâ€™s most troublesome potential opponent could well be a fellow Minnesotan, Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Pawlenty, a former two-term governor of Minnesota, got a break recently when Sen. John Thune (S.D.) announced he wouldnâ€™t run for the 2012 GOP nomination.
Though the two men have different political backgrounds â€” Pawlenty has been in state government while Thuneâ€™s recent service has been in Washington, D.C. â€” the two 50-year-old Midwest Republicans would have been â€œcompeting for the same space,â€ according to one Republican consultant.
But Bachmann, a three-term Congresswoman whose support on the political right and among social conservatives rivals former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palinâ€™s, remains a potential problem for Pawlenty.
Although the two Minnesota Republicans donâ€™t necessarily appeal to the same people, Bachmannâ€™s presence in the Republican contest would undoubtedly draw some Minnesota money and support that would otherwise go to Pawlenty, even if only because he was the â€œlocalâ€ guy in the race.
After all, Bachmann represents the most Republican district in the Gopher State. President George W. Bush won her district comfortably with 57 percent in 2004, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried it with 53 percent in 2008.
Many of the Republicans mentioned seriously as potential White House hopefuls start with a very narrow road to the nomination, but the route may be the narrowest for Pawlenty.
He starts a presidential race as the serious contender with the least national political buzz and uncertain fundraising ability, and unless that changes dramatically, he is likely to need a strong showing in neighboring Iowa to jump-start his bid for the GOP nomination.
If Pawlenty canâ€™t get a bump out of Iowa, itâ€™s hard to see him doing better in the three early state contests that will follow: New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Pawlenty almost surely needs to win either Iowa or New Hampshire to become his partyâ€™s nominee.
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