DES MOINES – Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty officially opened his 2012 GOP presidential bid Monday by taking aim at Democratic rival Barack Obama and his policies, promising to tell Americans the truth about tough challenges they must face and offering change that will mean less government and less debt.
Pawlenty, 50, told several hundred Iowans gathered on a rooftop terrace with the state Capitol building in the background that he understands America faces deep problems and, as someone with eight years of executive-branch experience running a Midwest state, he will provide the courage that Obama lacks in facing them, not just “empty” promises.
“As we all know, America’s in big trouble and it won’t get fixed if we keep going down the same path. If we want a new and better direction, we’re going to need a new and better president. 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 this mess that we’re in,” Pawlenty said.
“It’s time for a new approach. It’s time for America’s president – and anybody who wants to be president – to look you in the eye and tell you the truth,” he added.
The latest GOP hopeful to officially declare his candidacy said the reforms that will be needed to reduce government and the national debt will be “in the trillion of dollars” and will require the participation of every American, starting with cuts to ethanol subsidies for Iowa farmers, changes to entitlement programs, salary freezes and benefit reductions for a downsized government workforce, and an end to “bailouts, handouts and carve outs” for Wall Street.
“We need to cut spending and we need to cut it big time,” Pawlenty said during his 20-minute announcement speech.
He said reductions in federal ethanol subsidies would be part of an effort to gradually phase out government aid to all industries. He also said efforts to rein in government and its spending habits likely would require that the Social Security retirement age for young people would have to rise gradually and that wealthy Americans likely would face a means test for yearly cost of living adjustments. He also called for Medicare performance incentives that reward good doctors and wise consumers while delivering Medicaid funds as block grants to states that would be allowed to implement their own cost-containment measures.
“The hard truth is that there are no longer any sacred programs,” Pawlenty said.
“In 2008, President Obama told us he would change America and he has. In 2012, we’ll change America again and this time it will be for the better,” he told the Iowa campaign kickoff event.
“Fluffy promises of hope and change don’t buy our groceries, make our mortgage payments, put gas in our car or pay for our children’s school clothes and other needs,” added Pawlenty, who had visited Iowa more than a dozen times before officially announcing his 2012 bid.
“We’ve tried President Obama’s way and his way has failed. Three years into his term, we’re no longer just running out of money, we’re running out of time,” he said.
Iowa Democrats criticized Pawlenty for failing to make a compelling case during his Iowa announcement speech and town meeting why he is qualified to be president, given that he had a track record in Minnesota of higher taxes and deficit spending. Democrats, who dubbed his event the “selective truth tour,” said the former governor decided to “cherry pick” the “truths” about his past service in office that he chose to highlight to Iowans.
“Pawlenty’s attempts to be everything to everyone are not going to fly with Iowa voters,” said Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman Sue Dvorsky in a statement. “Trying a little bit of everything might be a great strategy at The Olive Garden, but it doesn’t work well in presidential campaigns. If Tim Pawlenty really wants to be the nominee, he needs to come up with a better answer to the question – why me?”
Steffen Schmidt, professor of political science at Iowa State University, said it’s still early but former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Pawlenty appear to be vying for the front runner position. Now that Pawlenty is officially in the 2012 race, “he’s game for opposition research” that will require him to fend off criticism about his record from Democrats and from other GOP rivals.
“All in all, I think he’s a pretty good candidate. He seems smart and well organized,” Schmidt said.
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