Pawlenty formally kicks off presidential campaign

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty launched an exploratory committee two months ago, and it was only a matter of time before he formally kicked off his Republican presidential campaign. Overnight, he dropped the pretense and made his intentions clear in a video announcement, to be followed by an event in Iowa today.

“That’s where I am going to begin a campaign that tells the American people the truth,” Mr. Pawlenty says in the two-minute video, mincing no words about his intentions. “I’m Tim Pawlenty, and I’m running for president of the United States.”

There has been little doubt in recent months that Mr. Pawlenty would take this step. Of all the potential Republican candidates, Mr. Pawlenty has been the least coy, assembling a campaign staff, traveling to states that hold early contests and commenting quickly on events of the day.

But for all his efforts, Mr. Pawlenty still faces a major challenge: he remains one of the least known faces in the Republican field, having almost no national profile on which to base a campaign.

And really, that’s just the start of his troubles. Pawlenty was asked about why he’s taking on this extraordinary challenge, with the hopes of becoming the most powerful person in the world. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I wish I had a good answer for you on that.”

Indeed, the DNC is out this morning with a new video, mocking Pawlenty for lacking a rationale for even running in the first place.

But putting that aside — I assume the former governor will come up with a better answer to this question one of these days — Pawlenty has more practical hurdles to clear, too. He’s a dull and uninspiring character, with very little support in the polls. Pawlenty has a very thin record for a two-term governor; he isn’t well liked in his own state; he was a moderate who’s now dressing up in right-wing clothing; he has no meaningful areas of expertise in any subject; and after hitting the campaign trail, he appears to have adopted a Southern accent as part of a bizarre effort to appear folksy. I’ve even seen some compelling comparisons of Pawlenty to Michael Dukakis.

It’s not the kind of political c.v. that screams “frontrunner.”

And yet, Pawlenty still has a realistic shot at becoming the Republican nominee. With so many other credible candidates passing on the race, the competition for the GOP nomination will apparently come down to Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Jon Huntsman. Given his rivals’ flaws, it’s more than plausible that Pawlenty may find himself the last man standing — the least objectionable candidate able to more or less satisfy all of the party’s factions.

In fact, as near as I can tell, Pawlenty’s goal at this point is to become All Things To All Republicans, effectively telling each GOP contingent, “Tell me what you want to hear and I’ll say it.”

With this Republican field, it’s a message that just might work.