DES MOINES, Iowa - On a sun-soaked terrace with the golden dome of the Iowa Capitol behind him, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made his long-anticipated announcement Monday that he wants to be the Republican nominee who would challenge Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012.
Blasting what he described as the president's "fluffy promises of hope and change," Pawlenty sought to cast himself as a truth teller and argued that spending in Washington was driving the nation's economy off a cliff.
He chided the president for backing a "pork-filled stimulus bill" and financial bailouts for well-connected businesses, and called the Democratic health-care plan "an unmitigated disaster."
Pawlenty argued that the president, and in some cases other candidates, had failed to impress upon voters that the reforms required to rein in the deficit would require trillions of dollars of cuts.
As part of that effort, Pawlenty, 50, said he was headed to Florida to tell wealthy seniors that entitlement programs were on an unsustainable path and that he favored reducing the costs of the Social Security program by means-testing and raising the retirement age.
To applause, he said he would also visit Wall Street to tell the financial industry that if he's elected "bailouts, handouts, carve-outs are over." In a potentially perilous statement in corn-growing Iowa, he also advocated phasing out ethanol subsidies.
"Our country is going broke," Pawlenty said.
"Someone has to stand up and finally level with the American people," he said. "Someone has to lead. I will."
The former governor has a difficult path ahead. Although he was governor of a neighboring state, he is struggling to boost his name recognition, and his poll numbers in Iowa have lagged in the single digits, as well as in the key early primary state of New Hampshire, where he sits far behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Although Pawlenty has touted his record cutting spending in Minnesota, his foes have pointed out that state leaders are grappling with a projected deficit of $5 billion - one of the highest in the nation as a percentage of the state general fund - since his 2011 departure.
And though Pawlenty has boasted that he required the state government to "live within our means," he relied on the stimulus package he criticizes to do so.
The state's former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson said Pawlenty relied on "heavy borrowings" and shifted costs to local governments "while not confronting the state's serious challenges."