"President Obama is a gifted speaker, but he has taken the country in a very dangerous and misguided direction," he told Fox News on Wednesday during a trip to New Hampshire. "The country is figuring that out, and so the pendulum is swinging back away from Democrats. So now it's an opportunity for conservatives to make their case as to why we deserve another chance."
On paper, Pawlenty has the makings of a top-tier presidential candidate: past chairman of the National Governor's Association, co-chairman of John McCain's presidential bid, short-listed for vice president.
And in Minnesota, he pushed for inexpensive drug importation from Canada and elsewhere -- a popular ideal nationally that the Senate rejected this week, preserving the Obama administration's deal with drug companies to support health care reform.
"The Obama administration cut a deal with the pharmaceutical industry to protect them, and it's unfortunate, because if we can import and trade all around the world, we can't get prescription drugs for granny from Canada?"
But Pawlenty has a problem in this state, where they eat White House pretenders for breakfast: name recognition.
Mitt Romney leads the latest University of New Hampshire poll with a 76 percent favorable rating, followed by Rudy Giuliani with 61 percent. Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin are well known and in the 50s. Pawlenty is way back with a 21 percent favorable rating. A vast majority, 65 percent, don't know who he is.
"The campaigns that are the frontrunners in this race were already organized and getting their people in place prior to the last presidential election," said Andy Smith, a political scientist at UNH. "The Romney campaign for example never essentially went away. He still has his same staff together. He still has his people together. Now Pawlenty is at a different place because he's not known up here."
Pawlenty made the traditional first stops in the first primary state: the only statewide newspaper and only statewide TV station.
"I'm happy to share what I've done in Minnesota, whether that leads to a future race more broadly, I don't know. We'll just see," he said.