"For Tim Pawlenty, it's Ames or bust," declares Politico, which rounds up opinions from a number of experts—all of whom agree that Pawlenty must do well in this Saturday's straw poll. He's spent seven figures in the state and has been focused on courting Iowa; "he's doing everything right," says one strategist. And that's "the problem," because "there's no reason Pawlenty shouldn't win this thing." Adds a talk radio host, "If you look at the time, treasure, and talent he has invested, it’s hard for him to justify why he’s still here if he doesn’t win the Iowa straw poll."
Since Mitt Romney is skipping the event and Rick Perry isn't yet officially in the race, Pawlenty is the only mainstream GOP candidate competing—and if he finishes as the runner-up to a less-mainstream candidate with potentially shaky national appeal, like Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul, donors aren't likely to be impressed. And Pawlenty needs to keep his donors and win over more—he's struggled to raise money—if he wants to make a real bid for the presidency. He's "got to have something to crow about," says a longtime Iowa columnist, adding that if he doesn't, it "could knock him out of the race." (Read more Tim Pawlenty stories.)