Pawlenty has had great difficulty generating excitement about his campaign. But, at the very least, he has been respected as a legitimate contender. His perceived electability is high, and his record is about as conservative as any other candidate's. Pawlenty's main weakness has been his low name recognition, but that makes little difference in Iowa, where primary voters get to know all the candidates very well.
Pawlenty is widely viewed as a bland, generic Republican. That's not necessarily a barrier to winning the nomination, however. Primary voters chiefly care about electability and conservatism. As long as the "flashier" candidates are weak in those areas, Pawlenty can win.
There are two types of candidates who can sink the Pawlenty campaign. First, someone with similarly high perceived electability and conservatism, but who has the additional ability to get people enthusiastic. Chris Christie is most likely to fill this role. Second, someone who is like Pawlenty, but a little better. Mitch Daniels fit that description: He is a lot like Pawlenty, but is generally considered a more successful governor.
Pawlenty received a big--and well-timed--boost when Daniels announced he would not run. Pawlenty and Daniels would have both needed Iowa, and would have split each others' support. With Daniels out, Pawlenty is in a much stronger position to win Iowa and the nomination.
Pawlenty might have been able to beat Daniels in Iowa anyway, but it would have been close. By contrast, if Christie enters the race, Pawlenty is deep trouble.
News posts related to Pawlenty will have the Pawlenty "tag". For detailed assessment of Pawlenty's strengths, weaknesses, and strategy, view his Profile. Elephant Watcher calculates Pawlenty has a 15% chance of winning the nomination.