Gov. Pawlenty is headed back to Minnesota Thursday after giving a speech to Republican activists in New Hampshire Wednesday night. It was Pawlenty's first trip to the Granite State since he's been mentioned as a possible candidate for the White House in 2012.
Pawlenty's appearance helped raise money for the New Hampshire Senate Republican Political Action Committee, but it could also be viewed as a test run for a presidential campaign.
Pawlenty told a high-powered group of Republican activists that he's concerned about the national debt and federal spending.
"The federal government is running a Ponzi scheme, the Ponzi scheme on the Potomac. And it needs to come to an end," Pawlenty said.
He ridiculed the health care bill being debated in Congress, and said President Obama isn't delivering on the promise of bipartisan cooperation he made on the day before the 2008 New Hampshire primary.
"So here we are, gathered as conservatives, gathered as Republicans in New Hampshire. And the words ring out from President Obama here on primary night, 'Republicans and Democrats solving this together,'" he said. "And what has he delivered?"
Pawlenty called the health care bill a monstrosity. President Obama and Democrats have argued that it will provide health care coverage to millions of Americans currently without insurance and lower costs, but so far nearly every Republican in Congress has opposed it.
The audience was mostly quiet during Pawlenty's speech, but reacted with loud ovations when he called for an end to bank bailout funding and for a constitutional amendment to require the federal government to balance the budget.
“The federal government is running a Ponzi scheme ... and it needs to come to an end.”Gov. Tim Pawlenty
This is the first time many in the room had a chance to see Pawlenty in person. Others, like Helen DePrima of Bedford, said they saw him in 2008 when he campaigned for GOP presidential candidate John McCain. DePrima said she was impressed with Pawlenty's speech, but added she's not ready to back him yet.
"The biggest danger that this country faces now is the frightening growth of federal power, and anyone who convinces me that they're going to address that, that's the person I'm going to vote for," DePrima said.
DePrima joked that she's spoiled because she expects to personally interact with the candidates several times over the election cycle. In New Hampshire, that's not an unreasonable expectation.
"By the time this is all over, if Gov. Pawlenty hopes to win, he'll have not only to have memorized the counties in New Hampshire, but visited all of them -- including the far north," said Robin Marra, a political science professor at Franklin Pierce University.
Marra said the presidential polling he's done found that candidates who spend a lot of time in the state see their popularity increase dramatically. Right now, he said Pawlenty is an unknown quantity, which can only be changed one way.
"Retail politics -- that's the two-word descriptor for winning New Hampshire," Marra said. "You have to go out and meet people. You can't pull a Steve Forbes and spend millions of dollars on television advertising and expect that to resonate with New Hampshire voters. They want to see you."
"They want, in some cases, to actually touch you," Marra added. "They want to ask questions. They want to look you in the eye and see whether you're being truthful and straight with them."
Marra said one thing that may hurt Pawlenty is that he's seen as a true Republican who is courting the conservative base. He said New Hampshire voters want candidates who have an independent streak.
Democrats say Pawlenty should be focusing less on New Hampshire and more on Minnesota. DNC spokesman Frank Benenati said the New Hampshire trip is more evidence that Pawlenty cares more about his political future than his responsibilities as governor.
"I think Tim Pawlenty should care less about his 1.2 percent name recognition nationwide, and care more about the $1.2 billion deficit in Minnesota," Benenati said.
In addition to his speech, Pawlenty appeared on a New Hampshire-based talk radio station and talked with a reporter at the New Hampshire Union Leader -- whose editorial page is popular among conservatives.
The next out-of-state trip for Pawlenty which has been publicly released is to Alabama in February.