DES MOINES, Iowa – Republican Tim Pawlenty is betting it all on Iowa.
The former Minnesota governor will make his first campaign appearance Monday since announcing his candidacy for president in an Internet video. The setting for his visit — one block away from the Iowa State Capitol — underscores how important the state's leadoff presidential caucuses are to his political future.
"My first campaign stop will be in Iowa, and that's where I'm going to begin a campaign that tells the American people the truth," Pawlenty said in the two-minute video released Sunday night. He challenged President Barack Obama to level with the American people about the depth of the nation's challenges and to confront them.
The little-known Midwesterner hopes an Iowa victory will give him a boost into next-up New Hampshire and beyond, a strategy that carries potential benefits and risks.
If he wins Iowa, as he says he must, Pawlenty could emerge as the chief rival to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who lost the GOP nomination in 2008 and ranks higher in polls this year.
If Pawlenty falls short, however, he'll have to reevaluate the viability of his bid for the Republican nomination, despite the two years' groundwork he's laid in his neighboring state.
"In Iowa, he is all in. All his cards are right out on the table," said Bob Haus, a veteran Iowa GOP strategist who managed Fred Thompson's 2008 caucus campaign and is uncommitted for 2012. "Pawlenty is trying to set himself as the main challenger to Mitt Romney."
Pawlenty's visit Monday will be his 14th to Iowa since the 2008 election, more than any candidate except former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Pawlenty has used his visits to appeal to many of the sometimes fractious segments of Iowa's GOP base. He has spoken to chambers of commerce, Christian conservative forums and tea party rallies with equal comfort, although some GOP strategists in Iowa say he doesn't have an advantage with any of them.
"Pawlenty is competing for all parts of the party," said Richard Schwarm, a confidant of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and a former state GOP chairman who so far hasn't chosen a candidate to back in the caucuses. "He fits with the social conservatives, has the background of a budget cutter, and he's strong with national security conservatives. Plus, he's a good guy, and he's here, working it."
Strategically, Pawlenty has lined up an all-star team of consultants deeply rooted in Iowa Republican campaigns, winning presidential campaigns or, in some cases, both.
They include Iowa natives Terry Nelson and Sara Fagen, former political aides to President George W. Bush, who began working in the 1990s on statewide and caucus campaigns. Also on Pawlenty's team are state GOP operatives with strong ties to John McCain's 2008 campaign, as well as some former aides to Romney's 2008 caucus campaign.
Such heavy staffing early in the campaign has sparked warnings from some Republicans that Pawlenty risks repeating some of McCain's 2008 mistakes. The Arizona senator had lined up a dream team of national and Iowa advisers only to let several of them go when the campaign went broke the summer before the nominating contests began.
"You would assume they would have taken some strong lessons, learned what not to do and be pretty confident about how to raise enough money to keep the operation going," said Haus, the consultant.
Pawlenty also has hired staff in New Hampshire and courted the powerbrokers in the nation's first primary state. But he has less riding there than he does in Iowa, where he has said he has a cultural kinship and where fewer candidates may compete aggressively.
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