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 the Republican electorate.
But he never excited people except, perhaps, in Florida.
"I don't know or care if he's got a 5 percent chance or a 50 percent chance or an 80 percent chance, what matters right now is we need people who stand up for what they believe in,'' said state Rep. Richard Corcoran of New Port Richey, a Pawlenty supporter in line to be speaker of the Florida House, said recently.
Corcoran was part of a small but notable core of backers, who also included other future speakers Will Weatherford and Chris Dorworth. Pawlenty assembled a strong Sunshine State staff, including Slater Bayliss and Bret Prater, and had one of Florida's top fundraisers, Ann Herberger.
Pawlenty had acknowledged that he needed to do well in Iowa to continue. He placed third, well behind winner Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul.
When he tried to turn up the heat on President Barack Obama and his GOP rivals, Pawlenty 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 Sunday.
In recent weeks, he withered under the rise of tea party favorite Bachmann, whose rallying cry is a sure-fire applause line about making Obama a one-term president, and libertarian-leaning 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."
Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report.