Tim Pawlenty may not be a household name, but he's going for the universal appeal in the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, casting himself as the conservative honest broker who's been there and done it all before.
Pawlenty told a crowd gathered Monday in Des Moines, Iowa, home of the first presidential nominating caucuses, that he's not going to sugar-coat the truth -- about subsidies, health care costs, banking reforms or a "$14 trillion problem."
"Conventional wisdom says you can't talk about ethanol in Iowa or Social Security in Florida or financial reform on Wall Street. But someone has to say it. Someone has to finally stand up and level with the American people. Someone has to lead," Pawlenty said.
"Leadership in a time of crisis isn't about telling people what you think they want to hear, it's about telling the truth. President Barack Obama refuses to do that," Pawlenty added.
Pawlenty said after the recent spending spree in Washington, moving America toward conservative solutions will be tough to do.
"The problems we face as a nation are severe," Pawlenty said. "It won't be easy, but it's not supposed to be. This is America -- we don't do easy. Valley Forge wasn't easy. Normandy wasn't easy. Winning the Cold War wasn't easy.
"If prosperity were easy, everyone around the world would be prosperous. If security were easy, everyone around the world would be secure. If freedom were easy, everyone would be free," he added.
Pawlenty said he's got a record as governor of Minnesota solving problems there that have now become national issues. He said he cut spending, cut taxes, reformed health care and appointed judicial conservatives to the bench.
Pawlenty said he also faced down the teachers union over performance pay and withstood a public employee union strike over excessive benefits.
"People picketed my house, the media trashed me, and the buses didn't move. But neither did we. On the 45th day of the strike, the union came back to the table, and taxpayers won. Today, we have a transit system that gives commuters a ride, without taking the taxpayers for a ride," he said.
But Pawlenty, known for his laid back, Midwestern style, lacks the fiery rhetoric infused into President Obama's speeches, and while he touts a solid record, he has his share of detractors.
Iowa Democrats made fun of his decision to announce his candidacy three times in the space of 15 hours, first in an email and then on two morning newscasts before his rally in Iowa. The New Hampshire Democratic Party also issued a blistering commentary on style.
"Tim Pawlenty should spend less time googling how to announce his presidential campaign and more time figuring out why he's running, answering whether he supports (Rep. Paul) Ryan's reckless scheme to end Medicare and owning up to the $6 billion budget gap he left in Minnesota," said Communications Director Holly Shulman.
"The only endorsement Pawlenty should expect is that of New Hampshire's insomniacs -- as his tired campaign message could put anyone to sleep."
Republicans, too, were not shy to share their problems with Pawlenty.
"One thing is certain about Monday's presidential announcement by former Governor Tim Pawlenty: he will not bring up the fact that he presided over one of the larger tax increases in Minnesota's history," said former Minnesota Republican Gov. Arne Carlson in a blog distributed by Iowa Democrats.
"Pawlenty's great problem, which is the problem all of the establishment candidates have, is he offers no compelling vision for America. He offers no compelling reason why he should be the next president," wrote Tea Party Nation chief Judson Phillips.
But if reaction is any indication of the gravity of a campaign, then the commentary is a good sign for Pawlenty, who ranks all over the map in polling.
Though cast as the establishment candidate, Pawlenty is going for appeal among all the fractious segments of Iowa's Republican base, said one observer.
"He fits with the social conservatives, has the background of a budget cutter and he's strong with national security conservatives. Plus, he's a good guy, and he's here, working it," Richard Schwarm, a confidant of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and an uncommitted former state GOP chairman told The Associated Press.