By Todd Melby and Kim Dixon
MINNEAPOLIS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As his campaign
for U.S. president fails to take flight, some donors to
Republican hopeful Tim Pawlenty are having second thoughts.
"Maybe I jumped the gun on that," William Curry III, a
Wyoming retiree, said of his $500 donation to Pawlenty.
The former Minnesota governor, who faces off against seven
Republican contenders in a televised debate on Thursday
evening, needs a stand-out performance to propel him from the
back of the crowded field.
His poll numbers are mired in single digits and even party
strategists say he comes across as just too nice.
The next few days in Iowa, a state with early influence in
any U.S. election, will be crucial for Pawlenty, culminating in
Saturday's straw poll where he faces a big test against Michele
Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman who is a favorite of the
conservative Tea Party movement.
Interviews with more than a dozen donors to Pawlenty found
two camps -- the disillusioned and those backers still holding
out hope their man, who held city and state offices in
Minnesota before becoming governor, can break out of the pack.
Texas banking executive Jeff Austin III is also wondering
about the wisdom of the $1,000 check he wrote. Pawlenty "has an
outstanding record" as a two-term governor but his message has
been lost, Austin said.
"Tim Pawlenty used innovative and conservative leadership
to balance the state's budget, cut spending, reform health care
and improve schools without raising taxes," the candidate's
website says of his record in Minnesota.
After the last Republican debate, Pawlenty was criticized
for not seizing a chance to rip into rival Mitt Romney over a
healthcare plan Romney helped create when he was governor of
Pawlenty raised $4.3 million in the most recent quarter, on
par with other Republicans jockeying to run against President
Barack Obama in November 2012 but lagging well behind the $18
million brought in by Romney.
In another sign of the fitful state of the Republican
field, a report released on Thursday found more than 300 donors
hedged their bets in the second quarter by giving to more than
In recent days, the Pawlenty campaign has been aggressively
"They are hitting their donors very, very hard," said a
business owner from South St. Paul, Minnesota, Pawlenty's
That donor, who asked not to be named, gave more than
$1,000 to Pawlenty's campaign but said he is waiting for it to
gather steam before contributing any more.
Others are openly considering new candidates. Austin is
intrigued by Texas Governor Rick Perry, who said on Thursday he
will officially jump into the race on Saturday.
In the Iowa straw poll, many analysts said Pawlenty must
win or be a strong second to keep the momentum he needs to get
The campaign suspended Iowa television ads this week.
Spokesman Alex Conant said it was because Pawlenty wants to
spend on more direct voter contact.
Of the $4.3 million Pawlenty raised, he was left with $2
million -- showing he is using up cash more quickly than many
"The challenge is they have invested so much in Iowa for
the straw poll, so they could easily be completely out of
primary money," said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak.
Several backers who gave the maximum $2,500 donation cited
the 2008 Republican race, where eventual primary winner John
McCain's campaign imploded early and then came back with a win
in New Hampshire and eventually the nomination.
"For any candidate to gain traction, they have to prove
they can win," said Joseph Schmuckler, a Pawlenty donor who
works in investment management and bundled funding for McCain's
2008 bid. "But I think this is a long haul."
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)
© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.