Right off the starting line, Republican Tim Pawlenty is fashioning himself as the Chevy of presidential candidates. “We will not be the money champion in the race to start with. My friend, Mitt Romney, will be the front-runner in that regard,” he told NBC’s Today show. His nomination bid, he added, “may not be the BMW or the Mercedes campaign.”

Sounds like T-Paw is calling Mitt a Mercedes. But what Pawlenty isn’t saying is that he is running the Cadillac of campaigns in Iowa. The former Minnesota governor has put more troops on the ground in that early voting state than any of the other candidates combined, according to the Iowa Republican website.

A political scientist in his native Minnesota called it a big and costly operation, “a Napoleonic army sort of thing.” With potent paychecks, Pawlenty has drawn in some of Iowa’s best campaign talent.

Yes, he may be putting all his eggs in one basket in Iowa, but he probably needs to. Romney is likely to do well in the other main early voting state New Hampshire, next door to his Massachusetts. And that means Pawlenty needs Iowa to stay in the race. If there was ever a time for T-Paw to spend lavishly, this is probably it.

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Republicans — still looking for a 2012 savior?

The Republican field of contenders for the 2012 presidential nomination is nearly set, but that has not stopped speculation about luring another high-profile contender into the race. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels’ decision not to run bolstered two candidates in the race — former Governors Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts — but also spotlighted efforts to coax other prominent Republicans into the fray.