Tim Pawlenty’s campaign manager yesterday sent out an e-mail outlining Pawlenty’s accomplishments and assuring supporters that the former Minnesota governor’s fan club will continue to grow, while enthusiasm for other candidates — most implicitly, Michele Bachmann — will fade.

“In 2008, voters elected a member of Congress with no executive experience. We can’t afford the cost of inexperience any longer, and Iowans are getting that,” Ayers wrote. “[A]s more Republican primary voters start to tune in to the race, they are finding out that the governor’s record and message will stand the test [of] a brutal campaign. Other candidates’ records (or lack thereof), and plans for the future (or lack thereof) won’t.”

Even though Ayers never mentions Bachmann by name, it’s clear she’s the primary object of his statements.

Pawlenty’s persistent picking at Bachmann has drawn so much press attention that some even questioned whether the Pawlenty campaign planted the story of Bachmann’s supposedly “incapacitating” migraines. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin explains how that insinuation — and the Pawlenty campaign’s failure to completely dispense with it — continues to plague Pawlenty’s prospects:

In essence, the campaign’s defense is that they let the press run with a story without effectively rebutting it. If that is the case, and there is no definitive proof at this point to suggest otherwise, this will only multiply concerns that Pawlenty’s campaign is not firing on all cylinders. In any event, the issue has now created another worrisome distraction for Pawlenty, who has failed to make a dent in the polls and needs to finish near the top of the pack in Ames.

Meantime, Bachmann’s own handling of the headache issue has actually served her well. This weekend, she even slipped in a witty quip about her “condition” during an Iowa appearance:

Michele Bachmann went beyond her prepared statement about her migraines during an Iowa appearance today, making a joke about the story that dominated the 2012 coverage for much of last week:

“This week, they were talking about me and headaches. All I want you to know is I’ve been giving a lot more headaches in Washington than I’ve been getting,” she joked to laughter and raucous applause. … “And as president of the United States, I intend to give those big power brokers a lot more headaches, because we’re going to give the country back to you.”

Pawlenty’s persevering criticisms of a competitor continue to betray insecurity. Ed eloquently defended candidates’ rights to question their competitors’ records — and I initially conceded Bachmann’s migraines to be a legitimate cause for concern (at least until her doctor settled the issue definitively) and praised T-Paw’s common-sense quote about the requirements of the presidency — but, at this point, if I were Pawlenty, I would steer as far away from any mention of Bachmann — explicit or implicit — as I could manage. He doesn’t appear to be hurting Bachmann, but he is denting the best shield he has against attacks against him: His reputation as a stand-up guy who’s running on his own merits, not money or a popular image. He’s at his best when he talks policy, not petty quibbles.