SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) – Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty sharply criticized President Obama on issues ranging from health care reform to foreign policy Thursday, urging Republicans to challenge the president in a speech that was seen as a step toward a possible presidential run in 2012.
"It is time we stand up to President Obama," Pawlenty said in a speech to members of the Republican National Committee meeting here in this West Coast city. "It is time we stand up for our principles, and it is time we stand up for the American people."
Unlike fellow Republican Sarah Palin, Pawlenty is not new to national politics. He is a two-term governor, former head of the National Governors Association, and was on the short list to be Sen. John McCain's vice presidential running mate in 2008.
But Pawlenty is still relatively unknown, even within his own party.
Over the past few years, Pawlenty has been overshadowed by the more dominant personalities in the GOP, such as former Alaska Gov. Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and a handful of unsuccessful 2008 presidential hopefuls, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
In an interview Thursday, Pawlenty did not rule out a potential run for the Republican nomination in 2012, but he didn't rule it in either.
"I don't know what the future holds for me," he told CNN shortly before delivering his speech.
Instead, the governor said, Republicans need to concentrate on the near term - the 2009 and 2010 elections - and not the presidential race. "Everyone should be focused on 2010," Pawlenty said, adding that not to do so would be a "great disservice to the party."
Still, Pawlenty is doing all the things a potential presidential candidate would do, and needs to do, to be taken seriously by GOP primary voters.
He recently accepted a leadership role in the Republican Governors Association - a position that will have him traveling across the country for the next 15 months to try and help elect GOP governors. The RGA position also gives him the opportunity to build a national political network, the kind of infrastructure he would need if he does decide to run for the GOP nomination. Pawlenty is also helping state Republican parties raise money, and for the past six months he has appeared at critically important political gatherings such as the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. In a few months, Pawlenty will speak at the West Coast version of CPAC.
For the past 24 hours, though, Pawlenty spent his time focusing on the core group of Republican Party insiders meeting here in San Diego. A Pawlenty advisor described Thursday's speech as an opportunity for the governor "to introduce himself to an important group of Republican leaders and lay out the case for why President Obama's policies are taking America in the wrong direction."
In addition to the speech, the Minnesota governor held private meetings with dozens of RNC members, including a small dinner with influential Republicans Wednesday evening, including Kevin DeWine of Ohio, Jim Greer of Florida and Dick Wadhams of Colorado.
Pawlenty acknowledged in the interview that his national profile has been shaped by his policy work, not politics. But the Minnesota governor said that is changing.
"I do believe our party, my party, needs to do a better job" of explaining the GOP's goals, he said. "I have some ideas, and I am going to speak about them in Minnesota and across the country and help elect Republicans in 2010."
As for the state of the Republican Party, Pawlenty said he thinks that the GOP is no longer in a freefall, yet he said there still is a "long way to go" as the party rebuilds following the 2008 election when it lost the White House and additional seats in the House and Senate.
The Minnesota governor's political stock has been on the rise over the past seven months as that of several of his potential rivals - individuals who were considered the next generation of GOP leaders - has dropped. Palin remains a lightning rod for critics; South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford recently acknowledged an extramarital affair; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal failed to meet expectations earlier this year in his nationally televised response to Obama's address to Congress; and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman accepted the offer to be Obama's ambassador to China.
A new face for the Republican Party? No. A fresh face? Yes. But Pawlenty does have work to do. He polled in the low single digits in a recent Gallup Poll of potential Republican presidential candidates.
Pawlenty closed his remarks Thursday criticizing Obama's approach to foreign policy and emphasizing the need for the GOP to return to "conservative principles."
The speech drew RNC members to their feet - a standing ovation. Not a bad introduction to the GOP establishment.
Well, I'll buy the stand up for your principles line, but the truth is that the Republican party does not stand up for the American people; they stand up for corporate interests, the wealthy and the Christian conservatives. I'm an American – and Barack Obama stands up for me and for my principles.
Funny how Pawlenty has started to run off at the mouth as soon as Sarah Palin resigned. Coincidence?? I think not......now it is Pawlenty's 15 mins of fame.....geesh
Gov. Pawlenty is not a great governor. He cut health care programs and other programs that have assisted people's ability to survive in this recession. He's arrogant and only seems to care about the people that have and not the have not's although the have not's are working diligently to work their way up the ladder. At my college I had professor's who voted for him who said that they wish they had not because they lost their jobs because of his harsh cuts. I know this because I live in MN and almost everyone I deal with does not like him and they're republicans as well. Lord I pray he never makes it to the highest office seeing with he did in MN to thousands of families.
It's time we stand up to Obama? I'm sorry, he's only 7 months into this fiasco he inherited from the Republican party!! I get so sick of the bull in politics in this joke of a country sometimes. How bout we get rid of all the politicians already in office and limit the number of terms senators and congressman get? That would make it more difficult to get "career" politicians bleeding this country dry playing on our emotions like this idiot.
If this old washwoman of a candidate is all the GOP can offer as fresh, then I guess they'll need more lanterns and flares to find their way out of the wilderness. This guy barely eked out a win (<1%) in his elections in Minnesota. Timmy who?
"It is time we stand up to the President"?????? Excuse me?? Seems like the republicans have done absolutely nothing else ever since he came into office. They are experts at dis-information, obstructoinism, fear-mongering and just basically acting like a bunch of grade school kids.
They have been so busy trying to make our President look bad they have done absolutely NOTHING they are suppose to be doing.
I sure hope he runs and gets his butt beat good. Then maybe that embarrassment will make him slip back into the sunset and we can be rid of this dumb ass forever. Pawlenty did for Minnesota what George Bush did for the nation. He is worthless.
As I recall Mr. Pawlenty, You voted for Bush/Cheney policies 100% of the time– How did that work out for us? Any Ideas Mr Pawlenty? Didn't think so...
Right now I would pick almost anyone over Obama. Even my dear old Aunt.
It's time you stood up for the American people? ARE YOU KIDDING ME REPUBLICAN FOOL!!??? Your kind has shown us americans just what you stood up for in the last eight years and it D@MN sure was NOT us. You are as clueless as your ignorant breathen in Congress and those fools who laughed at President Obama during your RNC convention, until he won. Oops. Save the lying rhetoric crap for your base because the majority of the intelligent Americans in this country aren't buying it.