By Kevin Diaz

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, again tamping down expectations, told Fox News Sunday that he does not need to win the GOP straw poll in Ames next Saturday, the first concrete milestone of the 2012 presidential election.

Even though Pawlenty has worked the state harder than anyone in the GOP field, he said he will be satisfied “moving up from back of the pack to closer to front of the pack.”

Pawlenty has been using this line a lot lately in Iowa, where polls show him trailing in the distance behind front-running Minnesota Republican rival Michele Bachmann.

Pawlenty explicitly rejected the notion that he needs to beat Bachmann in Iowa, a make-or-break state for both candidates.

“No, I don't,” he said, adding: “But I feel very confident our campaign in Iowa.  I think we're going to do well in Ames. I don't think we have to win it.  We have to show progress.  But then we'll be in position to win those caucuses next January or February, and that's the ultimate objective here."