Two-Track GOP Presidential Race Heats Up

In its early stages, the Republican presidential contest has subdivided into two separate but equally important two-person races.

In Iowa, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is fighting for his life against fellow Minnesotan Rep. Michelle Bachmann, each seeking to become the right-wing alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney by winning that state’s caucuses. And New Hampshire features a kind of establishment primary between Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, fellow Mormons who both occupy center-right ground.

Pawlenty ripped into Bachmann on “Meet the Press” Sunday. He had to hit her at some point. She has completely overshadowed his campaign, which was predicated on winning the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. Bachmann had 22 percent in a Des Moines Register poll two weeks ago, to an alarmingly low 6 percent for T-Paw.

“Her record of accomplishment in Congress is non-existent,” Pawlenty said on Meet. “We’re not looking for folks who just have speech capabilities…We’re looking for people who can lead a large enterprise in a public setting and drive it to conclusion. I’ve done that; she hasn’t.”

Pawlenty continued the attack Monday on Fox News, while Bachmann said her foe's executive experience made him an "Obama clone."

Hoping to slow Bachmann’s mojo, Pawlenty is going all out to try to get a strong showing in next month’s Ames straw poll, a beauty contest that serves as an organizational challenge for presidential campaigns, as well as a fund-raising opportunity for the Iowa GOP.

Meanwhile, Huntsman targeted Romney’s economic record. His campaign said that Massachusetts ranked near the bottom in job creation among the states while Romney was governor, compared to Utah’s success during Huntsman’s administration there.

Romney’s campaign pointed out that Massachusetts ranking improved under his leadership, with unemployment rates dropping.

Up to this point, the rivals had mostly trained their fire on Obama rather than each other.