What goes through the mind of Tim Pawlenty these days?
The former Minnesota governor had a strong case to be the most viable and realistic alternative to Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination. But out of money and optimism, Pawlenty gave up and ended his campaign after a disappointing third place finish in Iowa's Ames straw poll in August behind Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul.
Quite a few prominent Florida Republicans wished he stayed in, arguing that Pawlenty's considerable network of Sunshine State supporters could have helped him win Florida's Presidency 5 straw poll in September that instead catapulted Herman Cain to the top tier.
They were probably right. Just a quick review of recent Republican contests — notably in Florida — makes clear what should by now be an axiom for struggling GOP contenders. To borrow a mythical quote attributed to Winston Churchill: Never, never, never give up.
Four years ago at this point, John McCain was wandering through airports lugging his own bags, widely written off as a dead man walking. In the summer of 2009, Marco Rubio was seriously considering giving up his supposedly hopeless Republican senate primary campaign against Charlie Crist.
Nothing underscores the point better than this year's Republican presidential primary. Herman Cain as a frontrunner? Almost nobody saw that a few months ago. Newt Gingrich looked more like a punch line than a contender early this summer amid mass staff exoduses and the Tiffany line of credit. Now, he's a frontrunner.
The landscape shifts dramatically almost every other week. Meanwhile Pawlenty is on the sidelines serving as a cheerleader for Romney, who still can't seem to seal the deal.
Hasner isn't quitting
One Republican holding firm to the never give up campaign philosophy is former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner. After eight months of campaigning across the state, Hasner is earning support from two percent of Republicans, two recent polls found, while announced candidate U.S. Rep. Connie Mack is overwhelmingly leading the primary field.
"I've never run statewide before. I don't have a famous last name, I didn't inherit a lot of money, I wasn't handed a U.S. Senate seat by Charlie Crist,'' Hasner, taking a shot at Mack and George LeMieux, said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. "But I am a fighter. If we needed more Washington insiders in Washington then I don't think I would need to be in this race. But I think we need people who are ready to go up and challenge the status quo."
The interview underscored Hasner's efforts to win ardent conservative primary voters rather than swing voters who will decide the general election campaign against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. In the interview Hasner boasted that Marco Rubio once called him "the most partisan Republican in Tallahassee," distanced himself from a state House campaign mailer describing Hasner as a "moderate" and warned that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to infiltrate America's legal system.
More on Senate race
Two polls released last week show a close race between U.S. Rep. Mack, R-Fort Myers, and Nelson. Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research found Mack trailing 45 to 39, while an automated Rasmussen Reports poll showed him leading Nelson, 43 to 39.
"I can beat Bill Nelson," Mack told the Buzz, his first comments since entering the contest about three weeks ago.
"We have to win the Senate back. If we don't, we're not going to be able to change the direction of America. I want to be part of that," Mack said.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Mack far ahead of the other Republicans and in a statistical dead heat with Democratic incumbent Sen. Nelson.
But Mack's competitors are not going to fold. Hasner on Political Connections noted Mack's support for federal funding of stem cell research and his vocal criticism of Arizona's tough anti-illegal immigration law.
Said Mack: "We can do better than passing laws that will destroy the freedoms of some Americans and others wouldn't have any problems based upon how they look. If you go back and look at my record, I have been a strong advocate for border security. I don't believe in amnesty. Not at all."
Mack ruled out entering the race earlier this year but saw none of the other Republicans making much ground against Nelson. People started to call on Mack, who has instant name ID (his father is the former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III).
"I wouldn't call it pressure. I'd call it encouraging. Which is very humbling but then you have to translate that into the day-to-day," Mack said.
Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.