Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor seeking to raise his profile for a likely presidential run, laid out a vision of smaller government and a strong defense before a crucial conservative constituency Friday.
The other principle he said guides him: "God's in charge."
"If it's good enough for the Founding Fathers it should be good enough for each and every one of us," said Pawlenty, noting that God is enshrined in the country's founding documents.
The Republican governor, who was raised Catholic but now attends an evangelical church, is not known for wearing religion on his sleeve. He noted that some people said it would be "politically incorrect" to bring up God. "Hogwash," Pawlenty said, drawing applause.
It was a fitting pitch for his audience.
In the speech to thousands of activists and leaders gathered at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Pawlenty sought to introduce himself, outline an agenda, and show he's a credible challenger to other Republicans considered more formidable in the hunt for the GOP presidential nomination, particularly Mitt Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor who lost his 2008 Republican primary bid made a splash at the conference one day earlier. Romney brought along his state's new Republican senator Scott Brown to introduce him. His previous campaign trail experience coming through, Romney delivered an impassioned defense of conservatism and indictment of President Barack Obama's first year to a cheering and chanting crowd. It was standing-room only for his mid-afternoon speech. His would-be campaign staff was on hand.
Later Friday, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, who also is said to be eying a White House bid but isn't believed to be nearly as far along in the planning, delivered a robust speech filled with criticism of Obama and lines tailor-made for this partisan crowd.
"The job of the American president is not to manage American decline. The job of the American president is to reverse it," Pence said at one point, earning thundering cheers.
By contrast, the reception for Pawlenty's midmorning speech was more muted. He received a standing ovation and polite applause. The ballroom was just partially filled; there were empty seats throughout, though that could have been because of the hour. He, too, had aides nearby who are helping him lay the groundwork for a possible run.
Pawlenty sought to draw a stylistic contrast from Romney, who spoke from prepared remarks on a teleprompter. Aides said Pawlenty spoke more extemporaneously, drawing from bullet points written in a notebook on the lectern. His speech was part conservative pep talk, part criticism of Obama.
Noting that Tiger Woods was in the headlines again Friday, Pawlenty said the GOP should take a page from the playbook of the golfer's wife and declared: "We should take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government in this country."
He belittled Obama as a president of "hope and change and teleprompters." He also said: "If government spending were an Olympic sport, he would be a repeat gold medalist." And he said: "Mr. President, no more apology tours and no more giving Miranda rights to terrorists in our country."
Pawlenty also delivered a message to liberals: "We're planting the flag on constitutional grounds and if you try to take our freedoms, we will fight back."
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