Tim Pawlenty Aims for the Straight Talk Mantel

The former Minnesota governor emphasizes hard truths in announcing bid.

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With Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels out and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in, the 2012 GOP presidential field appears to finally be coming into focus. Daniels Saturday became the latest big name Republican to pass on the contest, leaving what many analysts see as room for an alternative to emerge to presumptive frontrunner Mitt Romney.

Daniels appealed to both the Republican establishment and conservatives as a straight-talking, fiscally disciplined leader ready to challenge Barack Obama. But he issued a statement Saturday night passing on the race, citing family reasons. His wife and four daughters were reportedly opposed to a bid.

Pawlenty is now making a play for the straight talk that Republicans hoped Daniels would bring to the field. In an Iowa speech Monday launching his "A Time for Truth" presidential campaign, the former two-term governor used the word "truth" 16 times, blasting Obama for not being clear with the American people about "what it's really going to take to get out of the mess we're in." Pawlenty said he will tell seniors and young people that entitlement programs are no longer sustainable and Wall Street that "the era of bailouts, handouts, and carve outs will be over."

But Pawlenty faces an uphill battle on a number of fronts. The Obama camp is looking to raise $1 billion. The field's frontrunner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney showed he has the money power last week when his team raised $10 million in a single day. Pawlenty conceded that his campaign won't be able to match Romney's fundraising prowess. "We're not going to be the money champion in the race to start with," Pawlenty told NBC's Today. "My friend, Mitt Romney, will be the frontrunner in that regard." Instead, Pawlenty said his campaign "may not be the BMW or the Mercedes" but rather "a good solid Buick and maybe even trending toward a Cadillac." [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]

And current polls suggests Pawlenty is a long shot candidate, with 3 percent of Republicans supporting him in both a Gallup survey and a Suffolk University poll. But Romney's advantage may be related in part to name advantage: According to Gallup, 48 percent of Republicans recognize the two-term governor compared to 83 percent who can identify Romney and 96 percent who recognize former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Pawlenty, though, is farther along in the polls than Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who is also flirting with a presidential bid. However, Pawlenty has time for Republican voters to get to know him, says GOP pollster Jon McHenry, whose firm will likely work with Jon Huntsman should he officially enter the race. "In this case the problem for Romney is that he has had a go with this before and he's not further ahead in the field." Romney is expected to visit Iowa later this week. Pawlenty is also laying the groundwork in South Carolina, another important primary state.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann could be jumping in by June and conservative former Sen. Rick Santorum is playing around with a run. Also over the weekend, former Godfather's Pizza executive Herman Cain announced his candidacy for president, though he is running low in the polls. But McHenry says that the governors, Romney, Pawlenty, and Huntsman, are likely to be in the top tier in a field that he doesn't see getting much bigger than it already is.

Still the fact that the Republican establishment doesn't have a candidate in the race yet is telling, says GOP pollster John McLaughlin, because it shows "the inside establishment doesn't have the answers."