What if Tim Pawlenty were still in the race?

Tim Pawlenty has got to be kicking himself right now.

Since the primary started, the race has been between Romney and the Anti-Romney.

From Bachmann to Perry to Cain, there has been a rising star only to fall back to earth.

But Pawlenty never had his chance to see his star rise, because he exited so early.   It is true that he bungled some things financially with his campaign, and placed way too much emphasis on winning the summer Iowa straw poll.  I don’t know if he would have reversed some of the same campaign management problems that Erick Erickson has pointed out Cain has struggled with, but after all this craziness, he could have emerged as a palatable Anti-Romney candidate.

As a two-term governor from a Midwest state that the GOP must win in 2012, and as one with a light load of personal baggage compared to the others in the race, he would have been the person everyone might be flocking to now.

Now, of all horrors, the latest rising star is Newt Gingrich, due in large part to his ability to be both sly and smart.  While Pawlenty spent all his money and efforts in Iowa in August, Newt disappeared on a Mediterranean cruise.  If only Pawlenty had taken the same ‘lie-low and wait’ tactic that Newt has, he may have weathered the early storms and found an eventual life buoy.

The problem now is the race is still Romney vs Anti-Romney with Newt as the latest foil. The bigger problem is neither is an attractive choice. Romney has shown the inability to rise and after four years he has hit his ceiling. Yet if Newt is the nominee, he will likely be forced to take public funding due to his bare coffers, show poorly in the general election due to his overall low likeability and allow Obama to not only be re-elected, but will allow him to claim a huge mandate after having won a second term after his own 2010 “shellacking.”

Whither Pawlenty when he is most needed?