Gov. Tim Pawlenty dipped his toes into the presidential waters on Saturday night, speaking to a group of Republican activists in Des Moines, Iowa.
Pawlenty, who is widely considered a candidate for the White House in 2012, gave an aggressive speech ripping President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats for increasing spending.
The only thing Gov. Pawlenty hasn't done in his possible run for the White House is officially announce he's a candidate. He formed a federal political action committee, traveled the country to campaign on behalf of other candidates, and assembled a team of political advisers with experience running a national campaign. And now, he's made the trek to Iowa - the first test in presidential politics.
Pawlenty used his speech to take dead aim at Democrats in Congress and President Obama.
"Instead of asking you 'Are you fired up and ready to go',I want to ask you 'Are you fired up and ready to fight back?" the Governor said.
Pawlenty told an audience of about 500 Iowa Republican Party leaders that the nation is at a crossroads. He said President Obama and Democrats are ramping up spending at a time when the federal budget can't handle it. He complained about the deficit, the bailouts and the proposed health care changes.
"And when you have to scrap and claw to keep your farm or your small business or your family afloat, are you sick and tired of seeing the federal government bail out Wall Street and bail out big car companies and bail out insurance companies?"
The audience responded enthusiastically.
Pawlenty mentioned his efforts to keep government spending under control, touting his claimed single year record for vetoes and the need to cut taxes. Pawlenty also singled out First Lady Mary Pawlenty, who he dubbed his "red hot smoking wife" and got the biggest applause when he praised God.
"Now there are some folks who say 'Pawlenty don't bring that up. It's provocative, it's politically incorrect or whatever. Hogwash. Hogwash. This is in the founding documents of our nations. It's in the founding documents of Iowa. It's in the founding documents of Minnesota," he said.
This is the first time Pawlenty has made a political stop in Iowa since the summer of 2008 when he campaigned for Republican nominee John McCain. Then Pawlenty was mentioned as a possible running mate to McCain.
After the speech, Frank Severina of Urbandale told Pawlenty that he would give him time, energy and money. He said he could support him over former Governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
"I think he's a fresh face. We've seen Huckabee and we've seen Romney and we need a new talent like that. He says the right things. He's young and articulate," he said. "He inspired this crowd tonight."
But not everyone is ready to back him. Bob Parker said he likes Pawlenty but will likely support Huckabee if he runs.
"He's a fine man. He's a man and we got to know him very well. He's a person that our whole family is proud to know," Parker said.
And that's what makes Iowa different from other states. Iowans tend to size up candidates after they meet them. If Pawlenty chooses to run, he'll have to make plenty of trips to the state. Democrats say Pawlenty should spend less time in Iowa and other states and more time in Minnesota doing his current job as governor.
Frank Benenati, with the Democratic National Committee, said he doesn't have any doubt that Pawlenty is running for president.
"He obviously has decided not to finish his term strong because he hasn't spent much time in the state," Benenati said. "If he was true to his word, he would hunker down in the State House and start working on the problems that Minnesota is facing."
For his part, Pawlenty again downplayed presidential talk after his speech. Instead, he says he's focused more on electing Republicans in 2010.
Pawlenty isn't the only one in Iowa this weekend; Huckabee will sign books in three different Iowa cities Sunday.