The decision by the GOP establishment's would-be savior, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, to bow out of the 2012 presidential race at 3 a.m. Sunday as the nation slept was all former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty needed. Less than 24 hours after Daniels withdrew from contention, Pawlenty took his announcement video off the shelf, became an official candidate and told us what we already knew: Now that the less-than-eager contenders have dropped out of the pack, he is running, and he is eager.

Republican Party stalwarts remain worried and will continue to call, email and visit Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPolitical figures pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer House approves five-year farm bill House postpones vote on compromise immigration bill MORE (R-Wis.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, urging them — no, begging them — to run. But a murky primary field has suddenly become quite clear; the three former governors, Pawlenty of Minnesota, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jon Huntsman of Utah, are now the top three candidates in the race.

Pawlenty is not only working harder in Iowa than the others, he is perfectly positioned as the anti-Romney, in a primary electorate where many voters are still hoping to vote for someone other than Romney. Pawlenty doesn't have Romney's money, he doesn't have great hair like Romney or Huntsman, but he wants the job and has less baggage than Romney and stronger conservative credentials than Huntsman. As he told Time magazine last week, "I think I'm the one candidate in the race who can unite and excite the whole conservative movement and the Republican Party ... I think most of the other candidates are going to appeal to one of those buckets. But I can appeal to all of them deeply and authentically."

Indeed, Pawlenty has worked hard to build a coalition among fiscal, defense and social conservatives. The notion that he could "excite the whole conservative movement and the Republican Party" might not be possible, but he might still manage in the end to unite Republicans and conservatives ... as long as Christie or Ryan doesn't run.

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