Concord, New Hampshire (CNN) - Tim Pawlenty's advisers reacted with pleasure at their boss's third place showing in last weekend's 2012 presidential straw poll conducted by the New Hampshire Republican Party.
It's a sign, they say, that the former Minnesota governor's frequent visits and organizational efforts in the first-in-the-nation primary state are paying some early dividends among GOP activists.
But Pawlenty acknowledged Monday during his sixth trip to the Granite State that he has a long, difficult road ahead before he can credibly be described a frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2012.
"I didn't run last time, so anybody that ran last time has some built-in name ID advantage, some legacy, infrastructure," Pawlenty told a handful of reporters after speaking at a fundraiser for the Merrimack County Republican Committee in Concord. "But we are making good progress. And I think, as history shows, there is more than enough room in these races for somebody who didn't run last time to build an organization."
Pawlenty denied that he was comparing himself to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who sought the nomination in 2008 and maintains a deep well of support in the Granite State as he plots a second White House bid.
But it wasn't hard to deduce that Pawlenty was setting up contrast between himself as a scrappy underdog and Romney as the early frontrunner with everything to lose.
"If you are a serious candidate, over time, then maybe everything will take care of itself," Pawlenty continued. "But we are not in that level of people who ran last time who've got built-in name ID and awareness and familiarity."
Pawlenty said he felt at home in New Hampshire – and not just because of the frigid temperatures. Factoring in wind chill, thermometers in the state hit 15 degrees below zero on Monday.
"It reminds me a lot of Minnesota in the sense that people are engaged," he said of New Hampshire. "They take the process seriously. They are informed. There are elements of New England and the Midwest, there are a lot of similarities. The people. The weather. So it's very comfortable for me."
Pawlenty also commented on the surprising fifth place finish in the straw poll by his fellow Minnesotan, Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is expressing interest in her own presidential bid.
"She is a strong leader," he said. "I know her. I have got a cordial, good relationship with her. Obviously she has risen as a leader of the Tea Party nationally, so if she chooses to run for president, I think she could be strong candidate."
As for Bachmann's plans to deliver her own response to the State of the Union address on Tuesday night via the Tea Party Express's web site, Pawlenty said she has every right to do so.
"It’s all good," he said. "It’s cool."
Monday’s event in Concord drew roughly 100 people and raised $3,500 for the county party organization, according to the group’s chairman, Leigh MacNeil.
Jack Kimball, the newly-elected chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, addressed the crowd before Pawlenty and vowed to "do everything in my power to bring everyone together." Kimball narrowly won his job on Saturday after a contentious campaign that pitted his Tea Party-aligned supporters against establishment figures who were backing Cheshire County GOP Chairwoman Juliana Bergeron.
Pawlenty will make two more appearances in New Hampshire on Tuesday, speaking to the New England Council's "Politics and Eggs" forum in Bedford and then signing copies of his new book, "Courage To Stand."
TPaw is a good guy with a great resume. He is dull but he doesn't have the baggage of Palin, Romney or Huckabee.
Republican Nerd and Nic Cage lookalike could pick up some valuable Midwest states vs Obama.
Tim can play the underdog role well. because he is just like the cartoon character.
Governor Pothole, on behalf of the citizens of the Great State of Minnesota, stop running for Vice President. When the press comes back here to ask we good ol' Minnesotans about your performance, we'll just point to the streets and highways that have become your signature claim to fame. You are a pothole, just like the ones you've left in the state for us to fix. You did nothing here in office to even qualify you for higher office. Your lack of leadership in this state has left us in shambles. And I almost voted for you, until I got in there and came to my senses and voted for Tim Penny. Go back to Eagan and shovel your driveway...
I lived through 8 yrs of Pawlenty as governor in Minnesota. Yes, he is anti-tax, and if that's what you like, then he's your man. But his claims of balancing the budget – using accounting gimmicks, one-time monies, borrowing from tomorrow to pay for today (through deferred payments) , and best of all, simply calling a tax a "fee". We're still $6B in the red, so he really didn't do anything but kick the can down the road. I wouldn't vote for this man to be dog-catcher. I'm sure the Tea Party will love him.
Being known as Phewlenty in Minnesota shows you what those that know him best think of him. The man is worst of a joke than Palin.
He shouldn't be elated. Being in 3rd place in that contest is like placing 3rd in a freak show.
Yup! The banjo boy from Deliverance wants to be President of the United States!!
"DOWN" is a pretty tough command to give a dog after it has been taught, but I hope that Pawlenty will "STAY" right there.
Underdog? That's being generous, little Timmy. Try unknown dog. BTW, Governor Dayton is fantastic!
Pawlenty is probably using the 2012 election cycle to get name recognition for 2016.
Poor Timmy- Poor Republican Party- What a bunch of losers.
Romney easily took the straw poll over the weekend with 35 percent of the vote. Second was Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who earned 11 percent, followed by Pawlenty with 8 percent. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin won 7 percent Saturday, followed by Rep. Michele Bachmann, won garnered 5 percent. Only about 25% of what Romney received is not " a good showing". He needs to work harder. I wonder what happened to Huck, and Newt?