"He's good at eye contact and delivering the message. I think he'll catch on," Soutter said, adding that Pawlenty's networking strategy should serve him. "New Hampshire's not a state that goes for flash."
That may be good for Pawlenty, who has been dogged by a pizazz-free image.
His speeches, for instance, are rarely as memorable as those by rivals such as businessman Herman Cain and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Nor is he strongly identified with any one faction within the GOP, such as the tea party or socially conservative voters.
But Pawlenty is betting that enough Republicans will view him as an acceptable, if not ideal, candidate to take on Obama in next year's election. The two-term governor is introducing himself as a budget fixer who held down state taxes and made inroads on socially conservative policies in a place with a Democratic tradition.
In the leadoff caucus state of Iowa, Republicans Jane and Tim Niess, who own a bed and breakfast in Des Moines, say Pawlenty has intrigued them since they first saw him speak at an agriculture forum in 2004. They find his record attractive and appreciate the time he's invested in Iowa. They've seen him multiple times.
Even so, they haven't committed to him yet.
"We'd like our candidate to be able to excite people, too, and get them excited about staying engaged," she said. "That remains to be seen if he can get people excited and passionate about getting him elected."
He did just that as a Minnesota legislator and governor, often humbling foes with shrewd maneuvers and rhetorical jabs.
It's a side some observers wonder if he's suppressing as a presidential candidate.
"The Tim Pawlenty of old was perhaps more likely to use the acid-tipped epithet or characterization of a policy or person," said Chris Georgacas, a political ally since the 1980s and a top adviser in his first gubernatorial campaign. "It seems like he's almost trying to play it safe a little too much."
David Baird, a Republican from Adel, Iowa, doesn't mind.
He said he's backing Pawlenty because of his compelling life story and consistent resistance to higher taxes and spending in Minnesota, calling him "somebody who will have a broad appeal to people when they get to know him. Iowans are going to appreciate that he's an honest, genuine individual. He's not going to blow smoke."
Bakst reported from Des Moines, Iowa.
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