Tim Pawlenty has been desperately trying to lower expectations for the Ames straw poll for several weeks. One of his new lines is that a third place finish behind Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann won’t be all that meaningful if they are not perceived to be “credible” candidates nationally. Jim Antle comments:

There are two small problems with Pawlenty’s contention. One is that most observers believe Pawlenty actually has a better ground operation in Iowa than Bachmann, even if the Minnesota congresswoman is currently more popular with potential caucus-goers. Second, the types of straw polls that Paul has traditionally done best at are ones where he can bring his national following along rather than turning out voters in a single state. So it would be somewhat significant if Pawlenty finished behind Bachmann and Paul.

One thing that Pawlenty can’t escape is that he made Iowa the centerpiece of his campaign strategy, and he has made great efforts to build his campaign organization in Iowa, so it is very difficult for him to present something below first or second place as anything other than a huge failure. His campaign is reputed to be the best-organized in the state, and the Ames straw poll is a test of organization, so Pawlenty ought to be considered the favorite. That no one considers him to be the favorite at a contest for which his campaign should be ideally suited speaks volumes about the weakness of Pawlenty’s candidacy. We should just consider how quickly everyone would have dismissed Romney’s chances in 2007 if his major push to win the Ames straw poll had come up short and he had finished third behind Huckabee and Brownback. If Pawlenty finishes third or worse on Saturday, the response should be the same.