Tim Pawlenty's first Fla event as a presidential candidate
TAMPA — He is the son of a truck driver with a record of slashing spending, taking on public employee unions and quoting the Will Ferrell movie Talladega Nights: The Ricky Bobby Story.
In the end, though, the most significant feature of Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty could be that he is not Mitt Romney.
The ever-shrinking Republican presidential field looks increasingly as if it will come down to a choice between former Massachusetts Gov. Romney and somebody else. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich? Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman? Or Pawlenty, who formally kicked off his campaign Monday in Iowa and promptly headed to Florida to court leading donors and activists?
"It's time to tell the truth to the American people. They can handle it," Pawlenty told more than 50 Tampa Bay Republicans eager to see the little-known former Minnesota governor. "We've got a country that is facing unbelievable debt and deficit, our federal government is out of control.... We've got to provide the leadership, the courageous, bold, authentic, honest leadership that defines the problems, and the solutions."
Pawlenty is a lanky 50-year-old who, according to Stephen Colbert, looks like everybody's former high school guidance counselor. He barely registers in national polls or Florida polls, he lacks the vast resources of Romney, and nobody describes him as a mesmerizing speaker.
But more and more Pawlenty looks like a top contender as the potential Republican field shrinks. In the past few weeks, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, New York developer and reality TV star Donald Trump, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and, most recently, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, have taken their names out of the mix.