Tim Pawlenty brought his nascent presidential campaign to Coral Gables on Tuesday to introduce himself to coveted Florida voters as the candidate who is not afraid to tackle thorny political questions such as overhauling Social Security and Medicare.
But Pawlenty, a Republican, did not take an unequivocal stance on the hot political issue of the day: a GOP Medicare reform plan. And the former Minnesota governor spent a chunk of his time talking to Florida reporters about … Iowa.
Pawlenty broadly praised the Medicare proposals outlined by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, head of the House budget committee, who called for a voucher-like system where Medicare recipients would have to purchase health insurance from private companies.
"I support the courage, I support the leadership, I support the general direction of it," Pawlenty said of the Ryan proposal. "But I'm going to have my own plan shortly."
His plan will address how Medicare pays doctors — and Social Security, including a proposal to gradually raise the retirement age for younger workers. Older workers, Pawlenty said, would not be affected.
"I've been told that you can't tell the hard truth to people 'cause you might lose the election,' " Pawlenty said. "I'm afraid that if we don't tell the hard truths of the country, we may lose the country."
His approach got him an appreciative tweet from a man many Republicans would like to see in the presidential contest: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who said, "I admire truth telling and t-paw sure did it to open his campaign."
Democrats pounced on Pawlenty even before his news conference at the Biltmore Hotel.
"Will he answer this question? If president, would he sign or veto Ryan plan to end Medicare?" tweeted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward Democrat and head of the Democratic National Committee.
Since Pawlenty formally announced his run, some conservatives have raised questions about his record as Minnesota governor. He touts it as red in a blue state, but critics point to a $5 billion deficit after he left office.
Pawlenty, who officially launched his campaign in a YouTube video Sunday, showed his campaign is still working out early kinks. He had to hold two press gaggles after his staff changed the location of the first news conference. Reporters who missed it waited outside for an hour until the second one.
Pawlenty touched briefly on a wide array of issues, including the importance of Florida in next year's election.
"The nomination could very well be decided in Florida," he said.
But he also made several pointed references to Iowa, which holds the first primary caucuses. It's where Pawlenty, a Midwesterner and evangelical Christian, might have the most appeal.