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At rally, Tim Pawlenty adds tea party style to conservative credentials

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a likely Republican candidate for president with strong credentials but a rap for being 'unexciting,' sought to show a little flair at a tea party rally in Friday.

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Analysts say he could still become a top contender for the Republican nomination, because at this stage, national polls do not reflect how a candidate will do in early battle ground states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina that can give a momentum to a campaign. In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama trailed then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by double digits in nearly every national poll. His campaign took off after winning in Iowa and South Carolina in January 2008.

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In New Hampshire, Pawlenty appears to be making ground. On Friday, he won a straw poll at a New Hampshire Tea Party tax day event, where he had spoken earlier. Cliff Hurst, who is active in the Manchester Republican Committee in New Hampshire, said Pawlenty had been cultivating relationships with major players in the state party recently.

"He's very warm, and knows how to work a room," said Mr. Hurst.

“I think that’s the obvious strategy for him,” says Mark Blumenthal, senior polling editor at The Huffington Post. “It just doesn’t make sense to try to run a national race, when the goal is to win Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina.”

Professor Pearson says Pawlenty has been planning a presidential run since his second term as governor, and has been careful to cultivate a record Republicans would favor. From his energy policy to his crusade to cut the deficit, he shifted more to the right during his second term, she says.

“There are scenarios in which Pawlenty could be the last man standing, because he doesn’t have the baggage other candidates do,” says Pearson.

Some of that so-called baggage other of candidates was brought up during the rally. One speaker referenced Massachusetts' health-care reform, a plan spearheaded by former governor Mitt Romney (R), and one that could now be a liability for him.

Though most at the Boston event had not decided whom to support for the Republican presidential nomination, Pawlenty did have some backers. Jessie Nicholson, the wife of a US marine, walked through the crowd with her two small children, handing out Pawlenty 2012 stickers. Her daughter’s stroller looked like a tiny campaign van, with a makeshift Pawlenty sign taped on it.

“We were very impressed with his decisions,” said Ms. Nicholson, who lived in Minnesota during Pawlenty’s first term. “I wouldn’t be surprised if after today a lot of people make up their minds about him,” she said.

Austin Hess, who held a sign that read “2012: the end of the (liberal) world,” which Pawlenty had autographed, said after the speech that the governor was growing on him. Still, with so many contestants likely to vie for the nomination, he would wait and see what they had to offer before deciding whom to support.

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