AMES, Iowa -- I'm not seeing many cheers for Tim Pawlenty in today's post-debate wraps. John Dickerson says only that he went the distance with Michele Bachmann but may start to fade if he bombs at Ames. Beth Reinhard gives Bachmann credit for a "fearless performance," which by extension means she grappled with Pawlenty and won.
Let's remember what the stakes were for Pawlenty, though. He's in third place in Iowa polls. He's an afterthought in a week that centered -- really, it sort of did -- on whether a Newsweek cover was unfair to Bachmann. He's also been meeting voters and donors (I've definitely talked to the voters) who worry that he's not tough enough to play at this level, which is a complaint some Democrats had about Barack Obama in 2007. And now Pawlenty's got an aggressive debate performance behind him. In the long run it was what he needed.