Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty plans to fade from Iowa's paid airwaves just days from the critical GOP straw poll.
Campaign spokesman Alex Conant said Thursday that Pawlenty's sustained TV ad presence ends Wednesday, three days before the Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll in Ames, the first time voters express their preferences. The campaign long ago locked in commercial time slots through next Friday, but decided to scale back.
Instead, Conant said money will be spent on phone banks, direct mail and other tools designed to boost Pawlenty's popularity for the straw poll.
One GOP rival, fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann, plans to keep her ads up throughout next week, spokeswoman Alice Stewart said. The third candidate with a commercial presence is Texas Rep. Ron Paul; an official with his campaign said ad plans are still being finalized.
Conant denied his candidate's move signaled a campaign on the financial brink. Pawlenty started July with $1.4 million for his primary campaign, according to his Federal Election Commission report. Instead, Conant described it as a previously planned shift to make sure Republican voters committed to the former Minnesota governor actually show up.
"We are moving from recruitment mode to turnout mode and that requires more direct voter contact," Conant said. He declined to elaborate on the expected volume of campaign calls or mail pieces, saying he didn't want to tip other campaigns off to detailed strategy.
Rich Schwarm, a former Iowa GOP chairman and adviser to previous White House contenders, said Pawlenty's decision to pull his ads early makes sense because TV ads have a diminishing return so close to an event aimed at a few voters.
The final days are "primarily devoted to getting the supporters you've identified to the straw poll," said Schwarm, who is personally undecided.
Pawlenty settles in this Friday for a solid stretch of Iowa campaigning _ eight days, 26 cities and more than 1,300 miles on a swing that ends in Ames. The former Minnesota governor spent half of July in Iowa, where he has invested heavily since first scoping out a 2012 bid.
Pawlenty, Bachmann and Paul have the most visible Iowa campaigns ahead of the straw poll. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has been campaigning nonstop in Iowa but is on a shoestring budget. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, businessman Herman Cain and Michigan Rep.Thad McCotter will also appear on the ballot _ as will former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jon Huntsman of Utah, neither of whom has made much of an Iowa effort this year.