For Pawlenty, winning or outperforming expectations in the Iowa caucus is critical to his campaign strategy. Pawlenty, 50, is an evangelical Christian and has visited Iowa 14 times since November 2008, more than any other potential candidate, according to Iowapolitics.com. And he has hired longtime Iowa operatives.
In beginning his campaign here, Pawlenty presented himself as uniquely positioned to unite the tea party, evangelical and establishment wings of the Republican Party.
In a 20-minute speech before a few hundred supporters on the terrace of the Iowa Historical Building, he did not mention any of his GOP rivals. Instead, he trained his fire on Obama.
“Fluffy promises of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ don’t buy our groceries, make our mortgage payments, put gas in our cars or pay for our children’s clothes,” Pawlenty said.
He added, “Politicians are often afraid that if they’re too honest, they might lose an election. I’m afraid that in 2012, if we’re not honest enough, we may lose our country.”
In a video released on the eve of his announcement speech, Pawlenty contrasted his simple style with Obama’s “fancy speeches” and campaign flourishes, showing footage of teleprompters to make the point. Yet in delivering his speech here, Pawlenty read from a teleprompter, one of the few times he has done so.
In his speech, he made a veiled reference to Romney as he assailed Obama’s health-care plan. Some Republicans have criticized Romney for signing into law a similar plan for Massachusetts.
“I know how to do health-care reform right,” Pawlenty said. “I’ve done it at the state level. No mandates, no takeovers, and it’s the opposite of ‘Obamacare.’ ”
On Friday, Romney will make his first appearance this year in Iowa, although his campaign has shown few signs of competing aggressively in the caucuses here, instead focusing on New Hampshire, the next stop on the 2012 calendar.
Earlier this month, Romney announced that he had raised more than $10 million in one day, a feat few candidates, including Pawlenty, are likely to match. On NBC’s “Today” show on Monday, Pawlenty was asked whether he could raise enough money to be competitive.
“We’re not going to be the money champion in the race,” he said. “It may not be the BMW or the Mercedes campaign, but it’s going to be a good strong Buick, and maybe trending toward a Cadillac.”
Staff writer Paul Kane in Washington contributed to this report.