Citing the latest Gallup numbers, Christian Heinze concludes that Pawlenty has disappeared:

It’s time to stop calling T-Paw a first tier candidate.

We should have stopped calling him that several weeks ago. The more interesting question is whether Pawlenty is still a second-tier candidate. Alexis Levinson investigates what it was that led people to mistake Pawlenty for a first-tier candidate in the beginning:

Pawlenty’s standing as a first-tier candidate has as much, if not more, to do with the campaign he has set up and the people with whom he has surrounded himself than it does with what he himself brings as a candidate.

“I think the reason why they continue to be seen by the establishment media as a tier-one candidate is because the perception is that he has high national electability,” said a GOP strategist who has been involved with several presidential campaigns.

“He has convinced the insiders, or the establishment media, that, you know, ‘I’ve got the really smart talent, and I’ve got experienced people, and, at the end of the day, they can make the difference to me.’ And those people work assiduously at having good relations with the press.”

Levinson continues:

“The people that he’s hired and surrounded himself with, like Terry Nelson … Phil Musser … Nick Ayers — they’ve created this massive operation of always being in the news … of always being in the Washington press circle,” said Bob Kish, an Ohio-based Republican consultant who is working for Bachmann. They’re “hiring a lot of big names, spending a lot of money and creating this perception.”

But Kish said that a good campaign team is not enough.

“This political operation they set up might be a first-tier operation, but the fact is they have a second-tier candidate,” he said.

Chris Cillizza’s rankings aren’t quite so generous to Pawlenty. As Cillizza sees it, there are three tiers: Romney is in the first, Bachmann is in the second, and everyone else is in the third. Cillizza assesses Pawlenty’s predicament:

While the Pawlenty campaign is doing everything it can to downplay expectations in advance of the straw vote, it’s hard to see how anything other than a first or a close second place finish keeps him in the race. (Anything below that will make fundraising a near impossibility.) With so much riding on Ames, Pawlenty needs to have the best 22 days of his campaign between now and Aug. 13.