Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R) endorsed Mitt Romney for president Monday with a surprise appearance before Republican supporters here, saying that no other candidate in the race “can come close” to Romney’s experience or abilities to address the nation’s economic woes.

“You’re going to hear him today outline a series of ideas to grow jobs and get this economy moving again in the United States of America — and boy, do we need it!” Pawlenty said after touring Boeing’s enormous facility in North Charleston with Romney. “He is the most capable, most knowledgeable and most electable candidate in this race by far, and I’m honored to support him.”

Several candidates had been courting Pawlenty and his supporters following his withdrawal from the race in August, after depleting his campaign account and registering a poor showing at the Iowa Straw Poll. Yet, with Pawlenty’s low standing in the polls throughout his short-lived bid for the nomination, it’s not clear just how significant his endorsement will be.

“I’m here to celebrate the fact that Tim Pawlenty is going to be my national co-chairman,” Romney said as he introduced Pawlenty in the council chambers at North Charleston city hall. “His leadership as a governor, his capacity as an individual, a father, as a leader, is known across the country. I’m delighted to have his help.”

Because of Pawlenty’s focus during his campaign on jobs and the economy — and the support he collected within the Republican establishment — his endorsement could boost Romney’s standing as the stronger candidate to address the nation’s economic woes. But Romney was already strong on that score, and Pawlenty’s nod could also solidify Romney’s reputation as the establishment pick in a year when anti-establishment emotions are running high.

That dynamic could help Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is currently the frontrunner of the Republican field and Romney’s chief rival for the nomination. And that could help explain why Pawlenty took a shot at Perry when he first announced his endorsement on the “Fox & Friends” television program.

Perry wrote in his book, “Fed Up!,” that he considers Social Security “a failure,” and in last week’s California debate likened it to “a Ponzi scheme.”

“Governor Romney wants to fix Social Security,” Pawlenty said on Fox. “He doesn’t believe it should be thrown out. He believes it should be reformed and fixed, and I think that’s the right approach.”

Pawlenty’s endorsement could be particularly helpful to Romney in Florida, where a number of Pawlenty supporters and fundraisers have been sitting out the race since their candidate dropped out. As an enormous, early state in the nominating process and the first with an electorate that largely reflects the nation’s, Florida and its Republicans are likely to be critical to the nomination. Romney is betting that his contrast with Perry on Social Security will help him with Florida’s large population of seniors, and Pawlenty is likely to help get that message out.

One incongruity of Pawlenty’s endorsement is the fact that it was he who coined the term “ObamneyCare” to attack Romney over his Massachusetts health-care law, saying it was a precursor to President Obama’s federal law. Pawlenty argued then that the Republican nominee needed to have a pure record on health care, and he said that Romney couldn’t prosecute the case against Obama when he was a “co-conspirator” in creating the law.

Asked Monday about that line of attack, Pawlenty said he had discussed health-care policy with Romney before making his endorsement. “Mitt Romney is 100 percent dedicated and committed to repealing Obamacare. . . . I know and trust that that’s what he’ll do,” Pawlenty said.

Romney and Pawlenty both said the endorsement stemmed from many years of friendship and mutual respect that began when they were both governors. They held a series of telephone conversations following Pawlenty’s exit from the race, but the decision culminated with a dinner the two men had with their wives, Ann Romney and Mary Pawlenty, at the Romneys’ lakefront home in New Hampshire, during which all four of them hit it off. The Pawlentys were overnight guests at the lakefront home.

In a statement to his supporters, Pawlenty said: “At his core, Mitt Romney is a man of great character. . . . He believes in the bedrock conservative ideals of limited government and free enterprise.

“He will stand up for America’s allies when they are threatened, with fortitude. And he will face down our adversaries. He is a formidable person, and he will certainly be a formidable president. Our allies can count on it, and our enemies should expect it.”

Gardner reported from South Carolina and Rucker from Washington.