CONCORD, N.H. — He didn’t go after former presidential candidate Mitt Romney by name, but former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he has to work harder to connect with the people of New Hampshire than “anybody who ran last time.”
Both men are expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. And Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate, dominated his Minnesota counterpart in a straw poll of state Republican activists over the weekend.
“I didn’t run last time, so anybody who ran last time has a built-in name ID advantage and some legacy infrastructure,” Pawlenty said in a brief question-and-answer session with the media at a reception for the Merrimack County Republican Committee. “But we’re making good progress, because history shows there’s more than enough room in these races for somebody who didn’t run last time to build an organization.
“We’ve got to go out and earn support. That’s what we’re doing,” he said.
Pawlenty, who earned 8 percent in the straw poll to Romney’s 35 percent, repeatedly refused to answer direct questions about his likely opponent. The strategy prompted one reporter to ask, “Are you too nice to be doing this?”
Pawlenty responded, “I always tell people, don’t confuse being nice with lacking in strength.”
The comments came during Pawlenty’s sixth trip to New Hampshire since last winter, but this one was by far the most high-profile. He spent time Monday afternoon at a book signing before offering the keynote address to about 75 people at the county GOP committee reception.
He was passionate in his remarks, which were often biographical, as he worked to better acquaint himself with local activists.
Pawlenty noted that he grew up in St. Paul, Minn., a city with “a lot of blue collars and a lot of grit.” He added that his mother died when he was 16 and that his father was a truck driver who lost his job soon after.
He also drew heavily from his experience as Minnesota governor, touting his ability to make tough decisions that led to a government shutdown, a transit strike, no tax increases and minimal spending growth.
It was a speech that will likely soon become familiar to voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere.
Pawlenty formally said he would decide whether to run for president in the “next month or two,” but he will spend Tuesday morning connecting with more New Hampshire voters. He is the featured guest at the “Politics and Eggs” event in Bedford and will follow that with another book signing stop.
“We hope to see a lot more of you in the coming months,” newly elected state GOP Chairman Jack Kimball said before Pawlenty took the stage. “I think we will.”