* Criticizes Obama administration
* "I have the will and desire to do my part"
* Defends Sarah Palin
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, Jan 7 U.S. Republican Tim Pawlenty denounces "runaway spending" in Washington and blames the Obama administration for a mountain of debt in a new book that lays out his case for possibly running for president in 2012.
Pawlenty's "Courage to Stand" hits bookstores next week and comes as he gets closer to deciding whether to launch a bid for the Republican presidential nomination and the right to battle Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012.
Pawlenty, just ending eight years as Minnesota governor, said some Republicans shared the blame for violating their 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.
Reducing the U.S. debt level of some $14 trillion is a key goal of Republicans, who won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the Nov. 2, 2010 election.
But the party's budget head in the House acknowledged on Thursday they will have to sign off on more deficit spending to avoid a debt default this spring that would roil financial markets and bring the government to a grinding halt. [ID:nN06126921]
Pawlenty, who could be among as many as a dozen Republicans seeking the party's nomination, does not say definitively that he will run for president.
But he says there is a lot of work to be done to repair the country's economic health and "I have the will and desire to do my part, whatever that part may be."
"If I can help to shape America's future for the better in any small way, then it is my duty, and my honor, to serve in whatever capacity I can," he writes.
He argues that as a conservative governor in the liberal state of Minnesota, he cured the state of its "formerly free-spending" ways, achieved bipartisan compromises on healthcare and education reform, and learned some lessons that could be instructive for the federal government.
Pawlenty also avoids settling political scores, coming to the defense of an often-criticized possible rival, Sarah Palin.
Pawlenty was passed over for the Republican vice presidential nomination in 2008 by party nominee John McCain, who picked then-Alaska Governor Palin instead.
The McCain-Palin ticket was beaten by Obama and his running mate Joe Biden, now the vice-president. Pawlenty writes that those who blame the loss on McCain's selection of Palin "lose sight of the big picture."
"In truth, it didn't matter whom he would have picked. Once the economy collapsed, Barack Obama was going to win that election," he writes.
Criticism of Palin that she lacks intellectual curiosity is misguided "baloney" and her record stacks up well against Biden, who has faulty judgment on foreign policy and "a reputation for speaking when he ought to bite his tongue," Pawlenty writes.
"There are different kinds of smarts. There's street smarts, life-experience smarts, people smarts, book smarts. If you spend a little bit of time around Sarah Palin, you can sense and feel that this is someone who has a lot more capacity than people fully recognize," Pawlenty writes.
Pawlenty says he holds no ill will toward McCain for passing him over for the No. 2 spot on the ticket, but jokes that after McCain told he he had picked Palin, he took his dog for a walk.
"As I put the little bag over my hand and bent down to pick up her poop, I thought to myself, 'well, this is the only number two I'll be picking up today,'" he writes.
Pawlenty also defends former Republican President George W. Bush, whose image was in tatters when he left office two years ago after presiding over two wars and a financial collapse.
"I'm confident history will remember President Bush very differently than the pundits of 2008 did," he writes.
(Editing by Paul Simao)