Tampa, Florida (CNN) - As he dashed between fundraisers during a two-day visit to Florida, Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty paused to meet with voters and set about trashing the debt ceiling agreement signed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
The former Minnesota governor called the last-minute framework "very disappointing" and faulted Congressional leaders in both parties for not doing enough to confront the underlying federal debt crisis.
"They didn't fix the problem," Pawlenty told about 60 Republicans crammed into Buddy Brew, a high-end coffee shop in voter-rich Tampa. "They just popped a fiscal aspirin and pretended the problem's going to go away."
Pawlenty said the debt will increase by $7 trillion over the next decade under the terms of the deal.
He also rallied the audience with the misleading claim that "most of the cuts they proposed are going to come from defense."
Under the plan, defense cuts would be triggered later this year, but only if Congress fails to act on the recommendations of a special deficit reduction committee. Corresponding reductions in domestic spending would also be on the table.
Pawlenty was in Florida taking a detour from his relentless campaign march through Iowa ahead of the Ames Straw Poll on Aug. 13, a test of grassroots support that figures prominently in his early state strategy.
Speaking to reporters outside the coffee shop, Pawlenty said it was important to take a break from Iowa to lay groundwork in the other key early primary states like New Hampshire and South Carolina. Florida Republicans, meanwhile, want their state to be fifth on the nominating calendar, which would violate Republican National Committee rules.
"If you are going to be President of the United States, you have to have a campaign in more than just one state," he said. "Iowa is first and it's really important and we are going to be putting a lot of time in there between now and the straw poll. But we also want to make sure we are building our organization and our team in additional early states like Florida, South Carolina and New Hampshire."
Pawlenty said he plans to return to New Hampshire and South Carolina soon, but only after the vote in Ames. He would not say whether he plans to participate in the Florida GOP's closely watched "Presidency 5" Straw Poll in September, but he did say it was "likely."
He also revealed that his campaign is operating under the assumption that Texas Gov. Rick Perry - who could siphon support and donors away from Pawlenty - is planning to join the Republican race.
"I assume, in fact I am counting on, the fact that he is going to get in the race," he said. "For a while that will be all the buzz, as it is with all of these new entrants or individual entrants into the race. But all of us bring different strengths and weaknesses into the race."