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Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty tells Iowa Republicans Saturday night that it is time to fight back against President Barack Obama and other Democrats' policies. Don Davis/Minn. State Capitol Bureau

Pawlenty introduces himself to Iowa

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DES MOINES, Iowa - Key Iowa Republicans got to know Tim Pawlenty Saturday night in a speech that some considered the kick-off of his campaign in the first state to pick its presidential favorite.

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The Minnesota governor made no mention of his potential presidential candidacy, but harshly attacked President Barack Obama and other Democrats. Still, pointing out problems is not enough, he added.

"We have to be more than just critics of President Obama and Congress," Pawlenty told 700 Republicans during a 22-minute speech, echoing his concept of offering alternatives.

He said Obama is taking the country in a "dangerous leftward tilt."

Repeating his oft-mentioned concern about finances, he declared: "The federal government needs to live within its means."

Pawlenty pointed out that he is the first Minnesota governor, in a left-leaning state, to reduce spending from one budget to the next.

At the same time as the U.S. House debated a health-care reform bill, he was critical of Democrats leading the charge.

"They should be focused on jobs, not acting like a manure spreader in a windstorm," he said.

The crowd received Pawlenty politely, frequently interrupting his speech. The night's highlight for most in the audience was hearing from each GOP candidate for governor in what is expected to be a hot 2010 race.

Iowa is critical to any Republican presidential candidate's hopes for 2012. Its first-in-the-nation caucuses likely will determine a front-runner early in 2012, and those attending packed caucuses around the state have a good record of picking the party's eventual nominee.

Pawlenty tried to tie his Minnesota roots to those in his audience.

"We have common values ... common perspectives," he said.

In the audience, Pawlenty found good news and bad news if he plans to run for president.

John Meyer of Jefferson, in western Iowa, illustrated the bad news.

"Is he running for president?" Meyer said.

The good news is that Meyer was in the minority at the state fairgrounds event. Most others had heard that Pawlenty appears to be exploring a presidential run, even though he has not admitted that himself.

Jack Maples, a retired Newton car dealer, said he as heard "nothing but positive" things about Minnesota's 48-year-old governor.

"I was pretty happy to see him win after the goofy governor you had," he said, referring to Jesse Ventura.

Iowans will give Pawlenty a chance, Maples said, even though two other potential GOP candidates --- Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney - have remnants of their 2008 campaigns in the Hawkeye state.

Maples said Pawlenty helped the Iowa Republican Party by attracting national C-SPAN cable television coverage of the Saturday night event.

Many at the event have seen Pawlenty on national interviews.

"I'm impressed with his conservative views, said Gene Newgaard of Iowa Falls. "I think he has been doing a pretty good job presenting himself nationwide."

Nationwide, Republicans are looking for a spokesman, he added, and Pawlenty certainly is in contention. "He gets a lot of good press."

Being governor of a neighboring state helps Pawlenty, said John Flannery of Des Moines, a Verizon lobbyist in Iowa and Minnesota.

"He is one of us, kinda," Flannery said.

Iowans' preoccupation with the 2010 governor and U.S. Senate election could play into Pawlenty's hand by giving him more of a chance to get a campaign up and running, Flannery added. "We've got to get through this thing."

Mary and Greg Pearce, a Republican couple who live in Iowa's most Democratic area, were typical of the $25-a-plate crowd.

"I don't really know anything about him," Mrs. Pearce said.

They attended the fund-raiser, she said, because "we Republicans have to get more active."

The reason GOP members must work harder is simple, she said: "Barack Obama."

Mr. Pearce said that their daughter lives in Minneapolis, so he has heard a bit about Pawlenty, who governors "a very complex state."

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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