Tim Pawlenty ends his bid for the presidency

Tim Pawlenty is dropping his bid for the 2012 GOP nomination.

The former Minnesota governor made the announcement in a conference call this morning with supporters and later confirmed it in an interview on ABC's "This Week." He's the first high-profile GOP candidate to drop out of the increasingly crowded race.

The move came a day after he finished a distant third place in the Iowa straw poll Saturday--a contest that he had hoped would provide some desperately needed momentum for his campaign.

"We needed to get some lift to continue on," Pawlenty told ABC. "That didn't happen. Obviously the pathway forward for me doesn't really exist, and so we're going to end the campaign."

While Pawlenty had his eye on the GOP nomination race for years, the ex-governor never quite got out of the single digits in the race. In Iowa, a state where he had hoped to do well, his campaign had been overshadowed by Michele Bachmann's candidacy and looked to take another hit from Rick Perry's decision to jump into the race.

For months, Pawlenty was dogged by the same criticism: He is just too nice to be the GOP's standard bearer against President Obama in 2012. In June, he briefly got tough on chief opponent Mitt Romney--only to back down in the race's first televised debate. It was a dismal performance that Pawlenty never quite recovered from.

The straw poll was a make-or-break proposition for the Pawlenty campaign, which invested more than $1 million in the contest--including ads that ran in the weeks ahead of the event. The investment ate up much of the cash he'd raised so far during the campaign. His distant third-place finish on Saturday would not have made it easier for him to raise money among donors who were already skeptical of his ability to win.

The most immediate question now is who Pawlenty's remaining supporters will shift to--and who the ex-governor will endorse in the 2012 contest. While he was on John McCain's short list of potential running mates in 2008, it's unclear if Pawlenty would be considered for the same position next year by the eventual nominee.

On Sunday, Pawlenty said he wouldn't consider a VP nod at all.

But Pawlenty's political life might not be over. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is up for re-election in 2012, and no doubt Pawlenty's name will be mentioned among the possible GOP challengers in the race.