Pawlenty opens conservative series in Iowa

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty touted his evangelical background and offered a sharply conservative social message as he opened a lecture series sponsored by politically important social and religious conservatives who are testing Republican presidential contenders on their views on key issues.

Pawlenty met with reporters and delivered a lecture to members of The Family Leader, formerly known as the Iowa Family Policy Center, also meeting privately with key activists. The Family Leader is inviting potential presidential candidates to the state, which begins the presidential nominating process. Those events will continue through the spring.

Pawlenty stressed the ties to religion that he would bring to a potential bid for the nomination, saying in the speech at Pella Christian High School that his religious values shape his politics and policies.

"This is a country founded under God," said Pawlenty. "That leads you to other values, starting with a respect for life."

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Pawlenty has been among the most active of potential presidential candidates in traveling to the state where precinct caucuses traditionally launch the presidential nominating season, and he brought along wife, Mary, as he stressed his ties to the group.

"Mary and I are evangelical Christians and we are proud to say that," said Pawlenty. He sprinkled his remarks with opposition to same-sex marriage and family-centered tax policies. He rejected suggestions that the Republican Party was ignoring economic issues, which polls have suggested are important to voters.

"Our country has to be both prosperous and good," said Pawlenty, "If you're going to be a leader you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. This is not a question of whether you do one thing."

Evangelical Christians play an important role in Republican politics, and particularly the politics of the precinct caucuses. Pawlenty argued that as the Republican field begins to take shape it is likely to be dominated by conservatives.

"They'll have similar positions on marriage, on life, on school choice and accountability," said Pawlenty, saying voters will have to make their decision based on the history and record of the candidates.

Another potential contender is Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who got heavy attention when she visited the state and is also scheduled to join the lecture series in April.

"I have said if she runs, she would be a strong candidate," said Pawlenty. "I have a positive, cordial relationship with her."

For his part, Pawlenty returned again and again to his religious theme.

"Acknowledging God, turning toward God not turning away from God is an important starting point for all these values," said Pawlenty. "We can't be a great country until we're a good country. Our nation was founded under God. This has been a celebrated principle and tradition of our country."

After Pella, Pawlenty headed to a similar event in Iowa City, then was to wrap up his day at an event at Dordt College in Sioux Center.

Bob Vander Plaats, who heads the Family Leader, said the goal of the series was not to settle on a single candidate backed by conservatives.

"The purpose of this is not to endorse anyone, but to give Iowans an educational opportunity," said Vander Plaats.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul will join the series in March.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)