Politico's Jonathan Martin has an excellent piece up on Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's diligent, under-the radar preparation for a presidential run in 2012: the PAC he's opened, the donors and advisers he's been gathering, the operatives (some of whom worked for Mitt Romney in '08) he's been feeling out.
Taken together, Pawlenty’s efforts reflect a Republican trying to carve out a niche for himself in the very early 2012 jockeying. Before anyone else enters the arena, he’s seeking to win over Republicans who are reluctant, or downright unwilling, to embrace Romney and who think that other potential candidates — notably former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin — are nonstarters in a general election.
Martin's logic (and evidently Pawlenty's) resembles some of the early handicapping that's taken place in the TNR hallways. Romney is the clear frontrunner in conventional terms (donor base, establishment support, ability to self-finance, next-in-lineness), but while it's very easy to imagine him being the GOP nominee at many times in the party's history, it's rather harder to see the wealthy, blue-state, (formerly) moderate, health-care-reforming Mormon as the nominee at this particular moment. Mike Huckabee, for all his social conservative appeal, has a reputation for disorganization and is taking his presidential aspirations lightly enough to host a goofy weekly TV show that will likely provide plenty of oppo fodder in the primaries, general, or both. And Sarah Palin? Well, the number of ways she could flame out would need to be calculated on a Cray supercomputer--and that's assuming she doesn't ultimately decide she prefers the high-pay, low-work, everybody-loves-her role of conservative celebrity over the two-year internecine drudge of a presidential campaign. Meanwhile, David Petraeus may look like a dream candidate, but there's vanishingly little evidence that it's his dream, and John Thune--well, things are getting a little desperate if he's the guy you're begging to get in the race.
Does Pawlenty seem a long shot? Absolutely. But at the moment, everyone else sorta does, too.