If former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's (R) campaign is going to rebound, the candidate's betting it begins next weekend at the Ames straw poll.
Pawlenty hasn't called the influential gathering of Iowans a make-or-break moment for his campaign, but he's staked a great deal of political capital on the daylong event, where a poor showing threatens to cripple his floundering bid for the White House.
The former Minnesota governor's campaign has encountered difficulty improving his standing in polls, even in the Hawkeye State, where Pawlenty's spent the bulk of his time and efforts trying to win next February's caucuses.
And, a week out from the straw poll where likely caucusgoers' votes provide an indicator of the state's preference in a nominee, Pawlenty is projecting confidence.
"This is going to be the start of the formal season. And I think we are going to do very well. I'm confident of that," Pawlenty said Thursday night on Fox News.
"I think when my record continues to get out across Iowa in America, reducing spending, and doing healthcare reform the right way with no individual mandates, no government takeovers and appointing conservative justices and more, we're going to continue to get good momentum," he said. "I think you will see the first step of that in the straw poll next week."
The stakes couldn't be higher for Pawlenty, either. His campaign faces perceived financial problems following a second quarter fundraising report that failed to meet expectations; some top aides are working for the Pawlenty campaign either for free, or for a meager salary.
To that end, the Pawlenty campaign's poured thousands into radio and TV ads leading up to the straw poll, though those spots will come off the air days before the straw poll, so the campaign can focus its resources on turnout and the straw poll itself.
But Pawlenty still faces difficult hurdles in Iowa, namely the ascendancy of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R), a fellow Minnesotan who's made a play for Tea Party voters by boasting of her promise to vote against any measure to raise the debt ceiling. Bachmann's presidential campaign will also be out in force in Ames.