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Strugging Tim Pawlenty exits White House race

Aug 14, 2011, 7:45 a.m.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty speaks during the Iowa straw poll in Ames, Iowa August 13, 2011. REUTERS/Daniel Acker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor, dropped out of the 2012 presidential race on Sunday a day after a disappointing showing in a key early test of strength among his party's candidates.

"We needed to get some lift to continue on and to have a pathway forward. That didn't happen," Pawlenty told the ABC program "This Week" after his distant third-place finish in Saturday's Iowa straw poll.

"I wish it would have been different. But, obviously, the pathway forward for me doesn't really exist. And so we're going to end the campaign," he added.

Pawlenty, who was unable to attract the support of Republican conservatives, called his distant third place finish "disappointing."

Conservative Republican congresswoman Michelle Bachmann with 29 percent of the vote, Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas, was a close second with 28 percent and Pawlenty had 14 percent.

Bachmann's campaign has been catching fire but will be tested by the entry of another favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, Texas Governor Rick Perry, on Saturday.

Perry's candidacy could steal support from Bachmann, replacing her as early front-runner Mitt Romney's top rival and potentially bridging the gap between the party's establishment center and right-wing activists.

The straw poll is a nonbinding mock election that serves as an early gauge of strength in the state that holds the first 2012 Republican nominating contest -- the Iowa caucuses scheduled for next February.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Bachmann sidestepped a question as to whether she would seek the endorsement of fellow Minnesotan Pawlenty.

"I'll be calling him today to wish him well. And he brought a very important voice to the race. I have a lot of respect for the governor. I know the governor. We've known the governor many years and I'm grateful that he was in. He is a very good competitor," Bachmann said.

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Pawlenty said that what he brought as a candidate was "a rational, established, credible, strong record of results" as a two-term governor in Minnesota. "But I think the audience, so to speak, was looking for something different," he added.

Some experts had expected Pawlenty to be a formidable candidate in the Republican field but his campaign failed to gain traction in the early stages of the race. He was seen as a Republican candidate who could attract vital support from independent voters in a general election against Obama.

Pawlenty was on John McCain's short list to be the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008. He was a popular two-term governor in a Midwestern state.

He left the race just days after a sharp exchange with Bachmann in a Republican debate in Ames, Iowa. Pawlenty accused her of having no record of achievement as a politician. She fired back by attacking Pawlenty's record as a state governor, including his support for a state cap-and-trade environmental plan and for individual mandates in healthcare.

"That sounds a lot more like Barack Obama if you ask me," Bachmann scolded him on Thursday.

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