Getting better known is key for Pawlenty in U.S. race

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 21, 2011 2:10pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tim Pawlenty, expected to take a step toward a 2012 presidential run, is a mild-mannered Republican who would need to improve his name recognition to have a chance against better-known rivals.

Known by his supporters as "T-Paw," Pawlenty, 50, is a Christian conservative. He says that his background -- eight years as a Republican governor of Democratic-leaning Minnesota -- is proof that he can work with both sides.

He is expected to announce on Monday the creation of an exploratory committee, the first formal step in seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

As Minnesota governor from 2003 until this past January, he slashed a $4.3 billion budget deficit without raising taxes and has been a staunch voice against abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

And he says his main priorities are cutting government spending, reducing government's role in Americans' lives, and repealing the U.S. healthcare reform law signed by President Barack Obama last year.

"America needs job growth, not government growth," Pawlenty told conservatives at a Washington conference in February.

A Public Policy Polling survey of American voters this month illustrated the dilemma for Pawlenty. The survey found that he is viewed favorably by only 15 percent, unfavorably by 32 percent, and 52 percent said they were not sure, which means most people do not know who he is.

Or, as Obama joked at a recent event, the question for Pawlenty is, "Who are you, and where did you come from?"

Pawlenty has been attempting to change that view with repeated visits to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- states with important early contests in the nomination race.

ALTERNATIVE TO ROMNEY

He clearly hopes to present himself as the more conservative alternative to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is also expected to run for the Republican nomination.

Pawlenty courted fiscal conservatives in the Tea Party movement in Nevada and says Congress should not raise the debt level beyond its current level of some $14 trillion.

In "Courage to Stand," a memoir timed to coincide with his expected campaign, Pawlenty denounces "runaway spending" in Washington and blames the Obama administration for a mountain of debt.

Pawlenty said some Republicans share the blame for violating conservative principles of fiscal responsibility.

"But the fact is, the current administration, through the smoke-and-mirror effect of bailouts and big-government spending, has taken America's future and leveraged it into a mountain of debt so large it's nearly impossible for anyone to wrap their heads around," he writes.

Pawlenty says his early years in the Midwestern state of Minnesota helped shape what he calls his common-sense views and helps him relate to the struggles Americans are having at a time of high unemployment.

"My mom died when I was 16 and not much longer after that, my dad, who worked for a trucking company, lost his job for awhile. The foundations of my hometown and my family were shaken hard," he says.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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