Tim Pawlenty, a little known former Midwestern state governor, has officially joined the wide-open field of Republicans hoping to unseat President Barack Obama in next year's election.
Pawlenty, who isn't well known nationally and ranks low in popularity polling, was making his first campaign appearance Monday since announcing his bid for the Republican nomination in an Internet video late Sunday. It came just hours after likely contender Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels decided not to run.
"President Obama's policies have failed. But more than that, he won't even tell us the truth about what it's really going to take to get out of the mess we're in," Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota, said. "I'm going to take a different approach. I am going to tell you the truth."
Daniels is the third prominent Republican to announce this month that he will not run for president. Mike Huckabee, a former governor, and real estate mogul Donald Trump have also said they won't run.
The setting for Pawlenty's Monday appearance — one block away from the Iowa State Capitol — underscores how important Iowa's leadoff presidential caucuses are to his candidacy as he tries to take advantage of Daniels' absence to position himself as the principal challenger to Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor lost his first bid in 2008 and again is seeking the nomination of a party that historically has nominated a candidate who had run previously.
Though the U.S. economy is still showing signs of weakness, Obama is seen as hard to beat in November 2012. His approval ratings have bumped up since he announced the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Other Republicans who are considered likely candidates include former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, both favorites of the Tea Party movement, and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China under Obama. Libertarian-leaning U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who has a small but loyal following, has announced his bid for the party nomination as well.
Pawlenty is trying to cast himself as a straight-talking Midwesterner, unafraid to consider drastic changes to sensitive spending programs in order to solve the nation's fiscal problems.
He plans to call for raising the retirement age for the federal Social Security program for the elderly, a potentially explosive proposal.
Pawlenty made his announcement in the state of Iowa, which holds the first nominating caucuses borders his home state of Minnesota, which could provide an advantage.
If Pawlenty wins Iowa, as he says he must, Pawlenty could emerge as the chief rival to Romney, who ranks higher in polls this year than when he ran in 2008. If Pawlenty falls short, however, he'll have to reevaluate the viability of his bid for the Republican nomination, despite the two years' groundwork he's laid in his neighboring state.