Tim Pawlenty sets out on East Coast swing to raise campaign funds

With a key fundraising deadline looming, GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty will spend nearly all of next week soliciting money from donors to fill his campaign coffers.

Between Monday and Thursday, the former Minnesota governor is scheduled to travel to New York City, Atlanta and Florida to make one last fundraising push before Thursday’s second-quarter filing deadline with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

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Political observers will scrutinize Pawlenty’s second-quarter report next month to see if he is raising enough money to contend for the Republican nomination.

Pawlenty has consistently said he won’t raise enough to match the fundraising hauls of the field’s front-runner, Mitt Romney. But he has said he will take in enough to be competitive.

“We’re going to have enough money to run a competitive and successful campaign,” he told NBC the day after his campaign announcement last month. “It may not be the BMW or the Mercedes campaign. But it’ll be a good solid Buick and maybe even trending toward a Cadillac.”

But signs have crept up over the past few weeks that indicate Pawlenty might be having trouble reaching his goals.

His decision not to go after Romney on healthcare reform during last week’s primary debate prompted concerns from GOP strategists that donors could shy away from him.

And The Washington Post reported on Thursday that at least five of Pawlenty’s campaign aides, including his two top strategists, are working for little or no pay.

An anonymous Pawlenty source told the Post, as a possible way of downplaying expectations for the second-quarter report, it’s not because the candidate’s fundraising is going worse than expected. 

“This isn’t ‘We’re broke and we can’t afford to pay you,’ ” the aide said. “We’re raising exactly what we said we were going to raise. We’re paying our consultants exactly what they expected to be paid right now.”

Pawlenty had $116,000 cash on hand at the end of March, according to FEC reports, but that was before his campaign began in earnest.

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The second-quarter reports will be the first true test of the GOP field’s fundraising prowess, since almost every contender announced his or her candidacy after the first-quarter filing deadline.

Pawlenty is competing for major Republican donors with Romney and former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a Tea Party favorite, has also demonstrated the ability to raise large sums of cash during her career in the House.

Romney, the best fundraiser in the field, received $10 million in contribution pledges in a single day last month. By comparison, Pawlenty took in more than $800,000, not an unimpressive sum, at his “kickoff” fundraiser in May.