Iowa: Republican Pawlenty betting bid for party's nomination all on Iowa

By Thomas Beaumont

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Republican Tim Pawlenty recently pledged to be a president who levels with the American people and accused President Barack Obama of doing just the opposite as the former Minnesota governor launched his candidacy for the GOP nomination in a pivotal state.

"President Obama's policies have failed. But more than that, he won't even tell us the truth about what it's really going to take to get out of the mess we're in," Pawlenty said in prepared remarks. "I'm going to take a different approach. I am going to tell you the truth."

Pawlenty, who isn't well known nationally and ranks low in popularity polling, was making his first campaign appearance since announcing his bid for the Republican nomination in an Internet video late Sunday. It came just hours after Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' decision against a bid jolted the GOP race and brought the field into clearer focus.

The setting for Pawlenty's appearance -- one block away from the Iowa State Capitol -- underscores how important the state's leadoff presidential caucuses are to his candidacy as he tries to take advantage of Daniels' absence to position himself as the principle challenger to Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor lost his first bid in 2008 and again is seeking the nomination of a party that historically has nominated a candidate who had run previously.

Given an opportunity to go after Romney in a Monday morning appearance on network television, Pawlenty demurred, saying he'd prefer to talk about his own good presidential traits than criticize others. He did acknowledge he probably wouldn't be able to compete with the former Massachusetts governor in terms of fundraising.

In a highly scripted multi-format campaign introduction spread out over several days, Pawlenty is casting himself as a straight-talking, truth-telling candidate and seeking to convince a Republican primary electorate searching for a hard-nosed nominee that he's tough enough to take on Obama, the Democratic incumbent.

Pawlenty, who must win the party nomination before getting the chance to take on Obama, virtually ignores his GOP rivals in an announcement video, a column published in USA Today and in excerpts of his speech made available by his advisers.

Instead, he castigates Obama, saying in the excerpts: "America is in big trouble, and it won't get fixed if we keep going down the same path." The Republican cast himself as a can-do candidate, saying that Minnesota and Washington confront the same issues: taxes, spending, health care, unions, and the courts. And he said that his record as governor shows that he knows how to "lead a liberal state in a conservative direction."

"Politicians are often afraid that if they're too honest, they might lose an election. I'm afraid that in 2012, if we're not honest enough, we may lose our country," Pawlenty said, and then outlined bedrock conservative principles. "If we want to grow our economy, we need to shrink our government. If we want to create jobs, we need to encourage job creators. If we want our children to be free to pursue their dreams, we can't shackle them with our debts. This is a time for truth."

And, he added: "the truth is, we're all in this together. So we need to work to get out of this mess together. I'll unite our party and unite our nation."

Pawlenty's Monday visit was his 14th to Iowa since the 2008 election, more than any candidate except former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

The little-known Midwesterner hopes an Iowa victory will give him a boost into next-up New Hampshire and beyond, a strategy that carries potential benefits and risks.

If he wins Iowa, as he says he must, Pawlenty could emerge as the chief rival to Romney, who lost the GOP nomination in 2008 and ranks higher in polls this year. If Pawlenty falls short, however, he'll have to reevaluate the viability of his bid for the Republican nomination, despite the two years' groundwork he's laid in his neighboring state.

"In Iowa, he is all in. All his cards are right out on the table," said Bob Haus, a veteran Iowa GOP strategist who managed Fred Thompson's 2008 caucus campaign and is uncommitted for 2012.

Pawlenty has used his visits to appeal to many of the sometimes fractious segments of Iowa's GOP base, seeking to compete for all parts of the party.

Strategically, Pawlenty has lined up an all-star team of consultants deeply rooted in Iowa Republican campaigns, winning presidential campaigns or, in some cases, both.

They include Iowa natives Terry Nelson and Sara Fagen, former political aides to President George W. Bush, who began working in the 1990s on statewide and caucus campaigns.

Published: Thu, May 26, 2011