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Pawlenty Banks Big on Iowa

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The road to the presidential nomination used to run through the Iowa caucuses.

But that might not be the case anymore, which makes former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s (R) plan to go all in in the Hawkeye State a bigger gamble than in previous cycles.

Pawlenty will formally announce his presidential campaign today in Iowa, kicking off what is expected to be a traditional strategy for winning the nomination by putting big resources into the first-in-the-nation caucus state. The former governor boasts the largest Iowa campaign of any presidential hopeful so far — an operation that many have compared to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) extensive efforts in 2008.

“He’s putting together quite an organization. He’s got the same headquarters that I had for my campaign,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said in a telephone interview Friday. “He’s also very humble, hardworking, down to earth. That sells well in Iowa. He’s spending the time, and he’s putting together a pretty impressive group of people for his campaign.”

But Pawlenty’s biggest Iowa boost came early Sunday morning, when Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) announced he would not run for the White House. As governors of Midwestern states, Daniels and Pawlenty would likely have been competing for similar voters in the Iowa caucuses if the Indiana Republican jumped into the race.

But now that Daniels has declined to run, the GOP presidential field is more open than ever, especially in the Hawkeye State, leaving many to wonder what role Iowa will play in picking the nominee in 2012.

After former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, announced last week that he would not run again next year, there were rumblings about whether Iowa still reigns supreme in presidential politics. After all, in 2008, eventual Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) put only minimal resources in Iowa and placed fourth in the caucuses.

Romney, who placed second in the 2008 Iowa caucuses and whom national polls show to be the early frontrunner in the 2012 race, appears to be tentative about playing in Iowa this cycle, focusing his resources instead on New Hampshire.

“It was a very, very disappointing second-place finish for him in caucus night,” said Chuck Laudner, former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party during the 2008 caucuses. “He went all in here and it didn’t work out for him. I just don’t see him repeating that.”

But Branstad said he doesn’t think Romney will write the caucuses off completely, and he vehemently defended the state’s importance in the presidential nominating process.

“I think he will compete here, and I think it would be a mistake for any candidate not to,” Branstad said. “I think if you don’t come in in the top three in Iowa, it really hurts you in the other states.”

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