What a candidate like this needs is a good marketing strategy. Since someone like Mr. Pawlenty doesn’t distinguish himself on the basis of the fundamentals, he instead needs to stand out on the basis of superficial factors. Think about other products that are poorly differentiated from one another, like Coke or Pepsi or Bud Light and Miller Lite. These are exactly those products that tend to invest the most into their marketing budgets — Budweiser spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year trying to convince you that they’re a better brew than Miller, even though most beer drinkers would have trouble telling them apart.
It might not be that a candidate’s branding is inherently all that important — but it’s going to tend to be more important for a candidate like Mr. Pawlenty than for one like Ron Paul, who has a more eccentric set of political views and is more of an acquired taste. Mr. Paul is the equivalent of a microbrew like Dogfish Head. Dogfish Head certainly stands to benefit from making sure that it is available in stores and that consumers are aware of its presence — but it does not really have to convince drinkers that it tastes better than Budweiser, as any drinker who might plausibly choose it is already of that opinion. Mr. Pawlenty, on the other hand, has to compete against the big brands — and the risk is that he’ll become the next Schlitz Beer or RC Cola.
And so far, indications are that Mr. Pawlenty is losing the marketing war. The polls are one sign: contrary to what you might read elsewhere, they do have some predictive power, and what’s especially troubling for Mr. Pawlenty is that his numbers have not really improved even has his name recognition has grown to about 60 percent from 40 percent.