Jim Cole  /  AP
Republican presidential hopeful, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks to a crowd at a Tea Party rally at the Statehouse in Concord, N.H., on Friday.
updated 4/18/2011 8:55:19 AM ET 2011-04-18T12:55:19

Republican Tim Pawlenty, "T-Paw" to his supporters, has increasingly tied himself to the new crop of grass-roots activists in the 2012 presidential campaign.

So maybe it's time to call the former Minnesota governor "Tea-Paw."

He says his aggressive outreach to Tea Party audiences is one important part of a strategy to assemble the diverse network of backers he needs to go national and win the GOP nomination. He's not focusing solely on this emerging force in party politics, he says, perhaps mindful not to alienate other Republican groups.

"I'm not trying to introduce myself to the Tea Party. I'm trying to introduce myself to the whole party ... because I'm not known outside of Minnesota," Pawlenty told The Associated Press in a telephone interview ahead of a Saturday appearance at a Tea Party rally at the Iowa Statehouse. He spoke at a similar rally in Boston on Friday and to the movement's national summit in Phoenix in February.

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First Thoughts: 2012 race is off and running

A little-known Midwesterner trying to break out of a crowded GOP field, Pawlenty has said he needs to "win or do very well" in Iowa's lead-off caucuses by attracting social conservatives and pro-business conservatives as well as newly motivated Tea Party followers. They make up a chunk of the state's electorate: A Des Moines Register's Iowa Poll showed last fall that 39 percent of Iowa voters said they supported the movement.

Story: Look beyond celebrities for 2012 Tea Party effect

The Iowa challenge
But Pawlenty faces stiff competition for the allegiance of Iowa's Tea Partyers from Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and others.

"There may be some folks who are running as candidates who are more deeply engrained, or were engrained earlier, in the Tea Party movement," Pawlenty said in the interview. "As Tea Party members think about who they want not only to represent the conservative coalition but to win the election, I think we're going to be the candidate the presents the total package."

Pawlenty drew on the movement's critical eye about spending and the reach of government during his speech to about 200 Tea Party supporters who braved a harsh spring wind at the rally in Des Moines.

"We're here today to send them this message: Don't tread on me," Pawlenty said, borrowing the line from the flags common at Tea Party rallies.

Story: 2012 presidential candidates 'friend' social media

Cheers greeted Pawlenty when he hit on other familiar themes, including opposition to raising the government's borrowing authority and support for a balanced budget amendment.

"I think one of our basic messages is, the government's too damn big," he said.

Kathy Carley, a Republican and Tea Party activist from Altoona, said she found Pawlenty convincing.

"But I need to see him in another setting to see if he sounds the same," Carley said. "He sounds like he has the right principles."

Pawlenty has delivered similar messages in private meetings with small groups of influential Tea Party supporters, as he did in Altoona two weeks ago.

Too establishment?
While Pawlenty has made overtures to Tea Party supporters, his campaign strategists and Iowa advisers are establishment Republican operatives. Conversely, Bachmann has lined up commitments from some of the Iowa's most influential Tea Party leaders. If she does enter the race, she's expected to pick state Sen. Kent Sorenson, a rising star among the Tea Party activists, as her chief adviser in the state.

Story: The 2012 GOP presidential field

Pawlenty might seem an odd fit as the choice of a movement that sprung up a decade after he rose to GOP leadership in Democratic-leaning Minnesota. He was not invited to his home state's first Tea Party rally at the state Capitol in St. Paul two years ago, and was a warm-up act last year behind Bachmann and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, also a Tea Party favorite.

But some Iowa Tea Partyers say Pawlenty's fiscal record in Minnesota earns him credibility.

He was governor during a time of recurring deficits and battles with Democrats over his refusal to consider tax increases. Pawlenty had some success in stemming the growth of programs, but he also he resorted to temporary fixes and enacted new fees that some anti-tax activists considered tax increases.

"I think that the Tea Party is all about spending," said Brett Rogers, a West Des Moines Republican and co-founder of the Iowa Tea Party who is undecided about which contender to support heading into 2012. "And Gov. Pawlenty has a great message on that."

'I don't see him as Tea Party'
Others see Pawlenty as a latecomer and are leaning toward White House prospects with longer ties to the movement but narrower overall appeal, such as Bachmann.

"I don't see him as Tea Party. I didn't feel like he stood for what I stood for," said Jim Carley, Kathy Carley's husband.

Carley said he was dissatisfied with Pawlenty's answer during a recent meeting with Tea Party leaders to a question about how to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. According to Carley, Pawlenty said Obama and Congress could refuse to pay for it. Carley wanted more.

"I'm not talking about defunding it. I'm talking about getting rid of it," Carley said.

He says he's not inclined to support Pawlenty.

Carley likes Bachmann, who has introduced a bill to repeal the health law, and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain.

Bachmann told a Tea Party gathering of 350 people in South Carolina on Saturday that she doesn't think Obama is "on our side anymore" as she blamed him for a "foolish" war in Libya and high gasoline prices.

Bachmann also said a Tea Party movement that pundits say is waning is actually winning, citing polls showing Obama's approval rating flagging.

"We're winning. We're winning. 2012 is entirely possible for us to send a change of address form to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," she said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Race to 2012 finally begins

  1. Closed captioning of: Race to 2012 finally begins

    >>> on to politics now and the race for the white house . there's no clear republican front -runner to challenge president obama , but the gop race is at last heating up. nbc's mike viqueira joins us from the white house .

    >> reporter: lester, you're right. this time around it's taken longer than usual to stop, but with top-tier candidates finally getting in, including the president himself, the race to sit here in the west wing coming 2012 is finally on. with tax day looming on monday, this weekend tea party -backed anti-tax rallies were held across the country, with some drawing possible gop white house hopefuls from sarah palin in rainy wisconsin --

    >> these are the front lines in the battle for the future of our country!

    >> reporter: -- to donald trump in sunny south florida .

    >> if i run and win, our country will be respected again.

    >> reporter: with his built-in celebrity and controversial views on president obama 's birth, trump has surprised many by showing early strength in polls. former minnesota governor tim pawlenty is also now raising money for a run.

    >> have you had enough of $4 a gallon gas?

    >> yeah.

    >> have you had enough of a federal government that is out of control?

    >> reporter: and mitt romney , a veteran of the 2008 race, went to the web monday to take his first formal steps towards a run.

    >> i'd like you to ask to join with us, volunteer, donate, or just pass this message along to a frenld.

    >> reporter: still others are all but running visiting early battlegrounds like iowa and new hampshire. the sudden activity comes after a slow start to the campaign. when then- senator barack obama jumped in four years ago in february, there were already 16 candidates in the race. now, with the democratic field so far to himself, president obama kicked off his run this week in chicago. putting the first millions into what many expect will be a billion-dollar war chest .

    >> we came here tonight because we know that for all the progress we've made we've still got business to do. we are not finished.

    >> reporter: even as the race takes shape, republicans are pushing deep cuts to democratic priorities and the first battle lines of the contest are already forming.

    >> it's about priorities, spending, deficit, debt, and possibly tax policy . that appears to be where we are as a country as everybody is focused on the economy.

    >> reporter: and, lester, this coming week the president plans no fewer than three trips to different states around the country for town halls to tout his debt and deficit reduction plan and continue to slam the republican plan at that passed yesterday. also in california next week, there will be some fund raising for the 2012

Explainer: The 2012 GOP presidential field

  • A look at the Republican candidates hoping to challenge Barack Obama in the general election.

  • Rick Perry, announced Aug. 13

    Image: Perry
    Sean Gardner  /  REUTERS
    Texas Gov. Rick Perry

    Mere hours before a major GOP debate in Iowa (and a couple of days before the high-interest Ames straw poll), the Perry camp announced that the Texas governor was all-in for 2012.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas governor.

    While some on ground in the early-caucus state criticized the distraction, strategists applauded the move and said Perry was giving Romney a run for his money.

    Slideshow: A look at Gov. Rick Perry's political career

    He may face fierce opposition from secular groups and progressives who argue that his religious rhetoric violates the separation of church and state and that his belief that some groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, should be allowed to discriminate against gays is bigoted.

  • Jon Huntsman, announced June 21

    Image: Jon Hunt
    Mandel Ngan  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

    Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, made his bid official on June 21 at at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former governor of Utah.

    He vowed to provide "leadership that knows we need more than hope" and "leadership that doesn’t promise Washington has all the solutions to our problems."

    The early days of his campaign were clouded with reports of internal discord among senior staffers.

    Slideshow: Jon Huntsman Jr.

    Huntsman, who is Mormon, worked as a missionary in Taiwan and is fluent in Mandarin. But his moderate credentials — backing civil unions for gays and the cap-and-trade energy legislation — could hurt him in a GOP primary. So could serving under Obama.

  • Michele Bachmann, announced on June 13

    Image: Michele Bachmann
    Larry Downing  /  REUTERS
    Rep. Michele Bachmann

    Born and raised in Iowa, this Tea Party favorite and Minnesota congresswoman announced during a June 13 GOP debate that she's officially in the running for the Republican nomination.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Minn. congresswoman.

    Bachmann tells The Associated Press she decided to jump into the 2012 race at this time because she believed it was "the right thing to do."

    She's been criticized for making some high-profile gaffes — among them, claiming taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for President Barack Obama's trip to India and identifying New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots.

    Slideshow: The political life of Michele Bachmann

    But Bachmann's proved a viable fundraiser, collecting more than $2 million in political contributions in the first 90 days of 2011 — slightly exceeding the $1.8 million Mitt Romney brought in via his PAC in the first quarter.

  • Rick Santorum, announced on June 6

    Image: Rick Santorum
    Charlie Neibergall  /  AP file
    Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum

    A staunch cultural conservative vehemently against abortion and gay marriage, the former Pennsylvania senator hopes to energize Republicans with a keen focus on social issues.

    He announced the launch of a presidential exploratory committee on FOX News, where he makes regular appearances. He make his run official on June 6 in Somerset, Pa., asking supporters to "Join the fight!"

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Pennsylvania senator.

    No stranger to controversy, Santorum was condemned by a wide range of groups in 2003 for equating homosexuality with incest, pedophilia and bestiality. More recently, Santorum faced criticism when he called Obama’s support for abortion rights “almost remarkable for a black man.”

    Slideshow: Rick Santorum's political life

    Since his defeat by Democrat Robert Casey in his 2006 re-election contest — by a whopping 18 percentage points — Santorum has worked as an attorney and as a think-tank contributor.

    A February straw poll at CPAC had him in twelfth place amongst Republicans with 2 percent of the vote.

  • Mitt Romney, announced on June 2

    Image: Mitt Romney
    Paul Sancya  /  AP file
    Former Massachusetts Gov. and presidential candidate Mitt Romney

    The former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate has spent the last three years laying the foundations for another run at the White House — building a vigorous political action committee, making regular media appearances, and penning a policy-heavy book.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Mass. governor.

    In April, he announced, via YouTube and Twitter, that he'd formed an exploratory commitee. Romney made his run official in Stratham, N.H., on June 2.

    The former CEO of consulting firm Bain & Company and the president of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney frequently highlights his business background as one of his main qualifications to serve as president.

    Slideshow: Mitt Romney's life in politics

    To capture the nomination, Romney will have to defend the health care overhaul he enacted during his governorship — legislation that bears similarities to the Obama-backed bill despised by many conservatives. He'll also have to overcome the perception of being a flip-flopper (like supporting abortion rights in his 1994 and 2002 bids for office, but opposing them in his '08 run).

    In the first quarter of 2011, he netted some $1.8 million through his PAC "Free and Strong America."

  • Herman Cain, announced on May 21

    Image: Herman Cain
    Brendan Smialowski  /  Getty Images file
    Talk show host Herman Cain

    Cain, an Atlanta radio host and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has support from some Tea Party factions.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Atlanta radio host.

    An African-American who describes himself as a “citizen’s candidate,” he was the first Republican to form a formal presidential exploratory committee. He officially entered the race in May, telling supporters, "When we wake up and they declare the presidential results, and Herman Cain is in the White House, we'll all be able to say, free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, this nation is free at last, again!"

    Prior to the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, Cain rehashed the birther theory, telling a Florida blogger, “I respect people that believe he should prove his citizenship ... He should prove he was born in the United States of America.”

  • Ron Paul, announced on May 13

    Image: Ron Paul
    Cliff Owen  /  AP file
    Rep. Ron Paul

    In 2008, Texas congressman Ron Paul’s libertarian rallying cry — and his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — did not fall on deaf ears. An idiosyncratic foe of the Federal Reserve and a passionate advocate for limited government, Paul mounted a presidential run that was characterized by bursts of jaw-dropping online fundraising.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas congressman.

    Slideshow: Ron Paul

    He officially launched his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, saying, ""The revolution is spreading, and the momentum is building ... Our time has come."

    In the first quarter of 2011, raked in some $3 million through his various political organizations.

  • Newt Gingrich, announced on May 11

    Image: Newt Gingrich
    John M. Heller  /  Getty Images file
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

    The former speaker of the House who led the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” Gingrich remains a robust presence on the GOP stage as a prolific writer and political thinker. In recent years, Barack Obama has provided a new target for the blistering critiques Gingrich famously leveled at President Bill Clinton.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former speaker of the House.

    In early May, he made his 2012 run official. "I have been humbled by all the encouragement you have given me to run," Gingrich wrote on Facebook and Twitter.

    But a month later, the campaign was practically in ruins — with his campaign manager, spokesman, senior strategists all resigning en masse. Most cited issues with the "direction" of the campaign. But Gingrich vowed to press on.

    Slideshow: Newt Gingrich

    Also at issue: Gingrich’s personal life could make winning the support of social conservatives thorny for the twice-divorced former lawmaker. In a damning interview earlier this year, Esquire quoted one of Gingrich’s former wives describing him as a hypocrite who preached the sanctity of marriage while in the midst of conducting an illicit affair.

    Additional obstacles include his recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan as “right-wing social engineering" and reports of a $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany’s, the luxury jewelry company.

  • Gary Johnson, announced on April 21

    Image:Gary Johnson
    Jim Cole  /  AP
    Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson

    The former New Mexico governor took a big leap in late April, not by announcing an exploratory committee, but by actually announcing his official candidacy. “I’m running for president of the United States,” he told a couple of supporters and cameramen gathered for his announcement outside the New Hampshire State Capitol.

    He's a steadfast libertarian who supports the legalization of marijuana. He vetoed more than 700 pieces of legislation during his two terms as governor.


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