Pawlenty declares Trump support in campaign kick off

tpaw april 6
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty answers questions during his first press conference since launching his 2018 campaign. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he voted for Donald Trump for president in 2016, weeks after publicly denouncing the candidate and his behavior.

Pawlenty made the declaration Friday during an Eagan news conference -- his first since announcing in a video a day earlier that he’s running again for his old job.

With an eye toward attracting Trump voters, Pawlenty tried to distance himself from past criticisms of the president.

“The message to Trump voters is: I voted for President Trump. I support most of what he’s doing, nearly all of what he’s doing on a policy level,” Pawlenty said. “I just didn’t approve of some of his comments and language and behavior.”

Pawlenty made his disapproval clear in Oct. 2016, after a recording surfaced of Trump making vulgar comments about women. Pawlenty described Trump as “unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit” for office. He also said at the time that he was withdrawing his support.

Pawlenty explained the turnaround.

“So, after the Access Hollywood tapes came out, that kind of set me off and that’s why I made those comments,” he said. “But since then, he’s made a lot of great progress as the leader of our country.”

Pawlenty is a late addition to an already crowded Republican field for governor. His rivals have been campaigning for months. But Pawlenty said he believes he’s a stronger candidate. He said the GOP needs to have its “A-Team on the field” in a challenging election year.

Pawlenty did not rule out running in a primary. He said he would be honored to receive the Republican party endorsement, but acknowledged that the timing of his entry might make that difficult.

“I’m not sure if the cake is already baked for that endorsement,” he said.

Pawlenty remains averse to tax increases. But unlike past campaigns, he won’t sign any pledges or questionnaires related to taxes or other issues. Pawlenty said he won’t be beholden to any interest groups.

“Anybody who wants me to pledge or guarantee anything, they can go fish,” he said.

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