Reporting from Washington — Eager to shed the perception that he's too "Minnesota nice" to do battle with his would-be competitors, Republican former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty attacked President Obama as "chicken" on Monday for a State of the Union address he said ducked the nation's fiscal challenges.
Pawlenty's comments during a Fox News Channel interview Monday morning mark the latest escalation of his profile-building campaign.
"Most Americans … understand we've got a problem," he said during a conversation about the president's speech last week and looming budget challenges. "He's got all this soaring rhetoric, but the fact of the matter is he's chicken to address the real issues."
Pawlenty is in Iowa on Monday, finishing a two-day visit to the presidential proving ground that comes one week after a trip to New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation primary. He has yet to formally announce his future plans, with a book tour driving his current schedule.
He told the hosts of "Fox and Friends," a friendly platform in which he was labeled on screen as a "Tough-Talking Patriot," that running for president is a "personal decision" that would require his family's support. But he said he believed he had unique experience to offer the national debate.
Asked about his more aggressive tone, Pawlenty invoked a Republican icon.
"Don't confuse being nice with being weak. Ronald Reagan was a great example of that," he said. "You can be hopeful and optimistic and strong, but you also need to make sure that you, you know, are willing to back it up."
Pawlenty is set to appear at a west Des Moines, Iowa, bookstore Monday on his book tour, with additional stops this week planned in Georgia and Illinois. He'll be back in Iowa in just one week as the latest speaker in the Presidential Lecture Series organized by Family Leader, a group headed by influential Iowa conservative Bob Vander Plaats.