During his remarks Thursday at the Republican National Committee Summer Meeting in San Diego, Pawlenty sounded a lot like a politician testing the waters, saying Republicans should reach out to conservative Democrats and independents to rebuild the party's clout in the Barack Obama era.
Some wags in the blogosphere -- and the national news -- are wondering if Thursday's speech was a test of the presidential waters for the two-term governor from the Land of 10,000 Lakes who took over from Jesse "The Body" Ventura and has reportedly said he's not running for a third term.
Pawlenty recently boosted his national profile by taking on the role of vice-chairman of the Republican Governors Association. His speech Thursday was decidedly wider in scope than the issues facing his home state, though, and ranged from health care to foreign policy to government spending.
"The only thing growing faster than the federal deficit is Chris Matthews' man crush on Barack Obama," Pawlenty told the crowd of 200-plus.
Pawlenty shared the blame, however for the ballooning deficit, saying that it had trended upward despite who was sitting in the seat of power.
Still, the bulk of the governor's criticism was reserved for President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress, saying that efforts to control health-care costs by spending more was "a scheme that would make Bernie Madoff blush" and arguing that "pretty speeches don't defeat tyrants."
With Republican numbers shrinking in many states, the governor on Thursday told members of the Republican National Committee the party must not turn off voters who might disagree with the GOP on some issues.
Pawlenty said the party "needs room" for conservative Democrats and independents, as in the days of Ronald Reagan. During his noontime speech in the Elizabeth Ballroom at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, he repeatedly spoke about the need to "welcome others who are not yet Republicans." It was hard not to think of candidate George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" when Pawlenty encouraged Republicans to perform "individual acts of kindness and love."
Pawlenty acknowledged after his speech that it has been a tough time for his party, saying "we got our tails kicked in 2006 and 2008."
“Pawlenty isn’t exciting, and in another year, he might not attract much attention,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told CBS News. “But the GOP doesn’t have a lot of good choices on the table for 2012.”
Paul Bruno, a contractor from Monterey, Calif., who attended the luncheon, said he welcomed Pawlenty's visit.
"Always good to have a governor come to our state and ... tell us how things should be going," Bruno said.
Calls for comment to two local congressional representatives -- Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif) and Rep Bob Filner (D-Calif.) -- have yet to be returned.
The Republican summer meeting continues through Saturday.