Pawlenty starts as underdog, top aide says

Likely GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty comes into the field as a clear underdog but can appeal to a wide electorate, his new campaign manager said Tuesday.

Republican operative Nick Ayers has compared the former Minnesota governor, who only garners single-digit support in polls, to a "penny stock." But he said that was the reason he decided to work for his campaign.

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"Where we are in the polls right now are irrelevant. We recognize we are an underdog. But the support and enthusiasm building for him among people who are paying attention are incredible," he said during an interview on MSNBC. "I think he will be the big IPO, he will be in the investment worth making."

Ayers, the former executive director of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), has been making the rounds promoting his new client and explaining his decision to join Pawlenty's team and not a potential bid by Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), who served formerly as RGA chairman.

"I have tremendous respect for Gov. Barbour," he told the conservative National Review Online. "When I began making a decision about who was the best candidate — to propose bold, conservative solutions and defeat President Obama — it was a clear choice for me. But for personal reasons, obviously, it was difficult."

Ayers was mum about Pawlenty's primary strategy and other potential candidates in the field. But he did point to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), the only other mainstream contender to have formed an exploratory committee thus far, as the presumptive frontrunner.

"Of course he is the frontrunner. He ran an aggressive campaign four years ago, he raised a lot of money. And he spent the last four years making very calculated organizational moves, continuing to build a financial network," he said. 

Ayers also refused to take a jab at billionaire businessman Donald Trump, who is also considering a bid. 

"It will probably help our debate ratings if he [gets in]," he said.