ST. PAUL, Minn. — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination on Sunday, hours after finishing a disappointing third in the Iowa straw poll.
"I wish it would have been different. But obviously the pathway forward for me doesn't really exist so we are going to end the campaign," Pawlenty said on ABC's "This Week" from Iowa shortly after disclosing his plans in a private conference call with supporters.
The low-key Midwesterner and two-term governor had struggled to gain traction in a state he had said he must win and never caught fire nationally with a Republican electorate seemingly craving a charismatic, nonestablishment, rabble-rouser to go up against President Barack Obama.
Pawlenty tried to turn up the heat on Obama and his GOP rivals. But it often came across unnatural and he never was able to stoke the passions of voters.
"What I brought forward, I thought, was a rational, established, credible, strong record of results, based on experience governing — a two-term governor of a blue state. But I think the audience, so to speak, was looking for something different," he said.
In recent weeks, he withered under the rise of tea party favorite Michele Bachmann, whose rallying cry is a sure-fire applause line about making Obama a one-term president, and libertarian-leaning Ron Paul, as well as the promise of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the sharp-tongued Texan who entered the race Saturday.
"I thought I would have made a great president," Pawlenty said. "I do believe we're going to have a very good candidate who is going to beat Barack Obama."
He didn't immediately endorse a candidate.
Bachmann was quick to praise him, perhaps mindful of the need to broaden her appeal and reach his backers, who span the ideological spectrum.
"I wish him well," Bachmann said. "He brought a really important voice into the race and I am grateful that he was in. He was really a very good competitor."
The two-term ex-governor of a Democratic-leaning state was on Arizona Sen. John McCain's short list for the vice presidential spot in 2008. He had spent roughly two years laying the groundwork for his 2012 campaign and had hoped to become the alternative to the national front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
But this summer he unexpectedly found himself in a grudge match with Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who shot to the top of polls in Iowa after getting into the race.
Pawlenty struggled to raise money and connect with voters. He poured most of his cash and time into Iowa in the run up to Saturday's straw poll, a test of organizational strength and popularity in the state whose caucuses lead off the GOP nomination fight.
Pawlenty had acknowledged that he needed a strong finish to show momentum and quiet concerns that his campaign was faltering. But Bachmann won with 4,823 votes, while Texas Rep. Paul got 4,671. Pawlenty received 2,293.
Pawlenty said his message "didn't get the kind of traction or lift that we needed and hoped for coming into the and out of the Ames straw poll. We needed to get some lift to continue on and to have a pathway forward. That didn't happen."
Even after the poll, Pawlenty suggested to supporters late Saturday night that he wasn't dropping out. He called the test vote here "an important first step on the road to the Republican nomination and, ultimately, the White House.
"This is a long process to restore America — we are just beginning, and I'm eager for the campaign."
Still, he said in a statement after the results were announced: "We have a lot more work to do."
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