Jim Antle considers the Pawlenty campaign’s attempt to spin their horrible numbers in Iowa by comparing Pawlenty to Mike Huckabee in 2007:
Huckabee had to deal with Fred Thompson siphoning votes from his right, having already dispatched Sam Brownback. Pawlenty needs to convicingly outdistance Santorum and then leapfrog Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, and Paul (Romney’s numbers may fade on their own since he’s bypassing the caucuses). So Huckabee is indeed the model for Pawlenty, but he has a long way to go.
Jonathan Bernstein noted (via Nate Silver) Saturday that Huckabee had trailed the field in the first Register poll. There are a few important differences that suggest that Pawlenty is in significantly worse shape than Huckabee was. Huckabee’s main competition for social conservative voters, Sam Brownback, wasn’t polling much better than Huckabee at that time. Pawlenty has multiple competitors for those voters, and the most significant of these, Bachmann, outpolls him better than three-to-one. Pawlenty is the governor of a neighboring state, and he has already visited Iowa 18 times. By comparison, Huckabee had visited Iowa just seven times at this point in 2007. Pawlenty has put much more effort into his Iowa campaign than Huckabee did by this time four years ago, but his support remains just as weak.
Pawlenty is often touted in the national media as one of just two or three candidates likely to become the nominee, and his name recognition has risen to a point where he can’t hide behind his former obscurity. If McCain and Giuliani’s early poll results were mostly meaningless, the support for Bachmann and Cain seems unlikely to collapse in the same way. Pawlenty is likely in much worse shape than Huckabee because Pawlenty intends to run as a conventional, well-funded, mainstream candidate, and the reason that Huckabee surprised everyone with his victory in 2008 was that his campaign had been anything but conventional. Pawlenty isn’t going to have the same ready-made access to evangelical church networks that Huckabee enjoyed, which suggests that he does not have a way to make up the same distance that Huckabee covered.
For Pawlenty to be this cycle’s Huckabee in Iowa, he has to hope that Bachmann loses support to finish behind him in the straw poll as Brownback did in 2007. After Brownback came in third at the straw poll, his campaign faltered and he dropped out in October of that year. It seems unlikely that Bachmann will do likewise. The greatest difficulty Pawlenty has in imitating the Huckabee campaign is that Bachmann is doing the same thing, including hiring Huckabee’s old campaign manager, and she is already having more success as the new Huckabee in a few months than he has had over the last year.