Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty sought to present himself as a Republican presidential candidate willing to take unpopular stands as he entered the 2012 race today with a speech in Iowa.
Along with an assault on President Barack Obama’s economic policies, priorities and leadership, Pawlenty said it was a “time for truth” in U.S. politics and called for shared sacrifice to help balance the federal budget. That included his call for an end to federal aid for ethanol production, a subsidy that benefits Iowa farmers by creating more demand for corn.
“The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out,” Pawlenty said in Des Moines, Iowa. “We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it.”
Pawlenty, 50, promised similar tough talk in appearances later this week in Florida, New York and Washington. In Florida, he said he will say that federal entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare are “on an unsustainable path and that inaction is no longer an option.” He called for means testing for Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustment, as well as a gradual increase in the program’s retirement age.
In New York, Pawlenty said he would suggest that no company is too big to fail.
No More ‘Bailouts’
“I’m going to New York City, and I’m going to tell Wall Street that if I’m elected, the era of bailouts, handouts and carve outs are over,” he said.
Speaking to about 200 people on the rooftop of a state history building and with Iowa’s capitol as his backdrop, Pawlenty said he realized the popularity of ethanol subsidies.
“The industry has made large investments, and it wouldn’t be fair to pull the rug out from under them immediately,” he said. “But we must face the truth that if we want to invite more competition, more investment and more innovation into an industry -- we need to get government out.”
Pawlenty said he knows some of his positions will be unpopular in some quarters.
“Conventional wisdom says you can’t talk about ethanol in Iowa or Social Security in Florida or financial reform on Wall Street,” he said.
The decision to kick off his bid in his neighboring state of Iowa underscores its importance to Pawlenty’s campaign. Less well known than some potential rivals in the Republican race, he will seek a strong showing in Iowa’s caucuses to build momentum for his candidacy. The caucuses, scheduled for Feb. 6, will be the first balloting in next year’s nomination contest.
Another Minnesota Republican, Representative Michele Bachmann, is scheduled to speak at a party dinner in Des Moines on May 26, fueling speculation among party activists that she could announce her presidential candidacy then.
Pawlenty also called for a smaller federal government. “If we want to grow our economy, we need to shrink our government,” he said. “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.”
Pawlenty’s speech follows yesterday’s announcement by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels that he won’t join the Republican field because of family considerations, as the field of actual candidates gradually gains some clarity.
In a video released yesterday in advance of his formal announcement speech, Pawlenty suggested Obama over-promised in 2008 and has had success because of “fancy speeches” and campaign flourishes.
“I could stand here and tell you that we can solve America’s debt crisis and fix our economy without making any tough choices,” he said in his speech. “Fluffy promises of hope and change don’t buy our groceries, make our mortgage payments, put gas in our car, or pay for our children’s school clothes.”
Ken Martin, the Democratic chairman in Minnesota, told reporters after the speech that Pawlenty is a “political chameleon,” as he criticized his home-state record.
“There is nothing in Governor Pawlenty’s record that would warrant a promotion,” he said.
Today’s speech marks Pawlenty’s 14th visit to Iowa since November 2008, according to the IowaPolitics.com website.
Pawlenty, who was elected governor in 2002 and served two terms after spending a decade in Minnesota’s legislature, was on the short list of prospective running mates for 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who eventually chose then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
He has built a team of experienced political operatives, especially in Iowa, including Chuck Larson Jr., a former Iowa Republican Party chairman, and Eric Woolson, who led the winning 2008 Iowa caucuses campaign for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
In early polling, Pawlenty has trailed most of the potential Republican field. He received 4 percent in an April 26-May 1 survey by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.
Daniels’s announcement followed similar decisions to stay on the sidelines by Huckabee, real estate magnate Donald Trump and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Representative Ron Paul of Texas have both formally announced their candidacies.
Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor considering a second White House bid, has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to raise money for a potential race, as has former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Other potential candidates include Palin and Jon Huntsman Jr., a former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China.
Herman Cain, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Godfather’s Pizza Inc., and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson have declared their candidacies. And former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, a Democrat-turned-Republican, has formed an exploratory committee.
“In 2008, President Obama told us he would change America, and he has,” Pawlenty said near the end of his speech. “In 2012, we will change America again, and this time, it’ll be for the better.”