ABC News with Gov. Tim Pawlenty

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ABC, Jan. 7, 2011 11:55 pm ET, Rough transcript:

ANCHOR: he was almost in sarah palin's shoes, minnesota governor tim pawlenty was on john McCAIN'S short list of potential running mates in 2008. We all know how that turned out. But now his name is being tossed around for the top spot on the ticket in 2012. This week tim pawlenty completed his second term as governor. My co-anchor terry moran sat down with him for our series "the contenders."

Reporter: in a lot of ways tim pawlenty is the anti-palin in the burgeoning field of republican presidential hopefuls. He just finished two terms as the governor of minnesota who finished his term.

PALIN: pull. Dang it.

Reporter: he doesn't have a reality tv show.

PALIN: you can see russia from here.

Reporter: he's got about 20,000 followers on twitter. Palin's got about 350,000. He's by no means a household name in america and he's got a very minnesota very easy-going, very mild public persona. But he does hunt. a little deer hunting, pheasant or duck hunting. Some turkey hunting. We have wild turkeys had this area.

Reporter: we traveled to snowy minneapolis this week to talk to tim pawlenty.

PAWLNTY: thank you. Good afternoon.

Reporter: because while there are certainly better known republicans eyeing the presidency in 2012, sarah palin, newt gingrich, mitt romney and others tim pawlenty is seen by many republicans including rush limbaugh as a genuine contender and having just left office on monday, pawlenty who we talked to at a home of a aid is wasting no time. There are some that say you're already running.

PAWLENTY: i'll make the final decision and announcement probably in march/april time frame.

Reporter: but pawlenty is already crisscrossing the country for months laying the groundwork in iowa and new hampshire and other key states and he's embarking on a book tour having just published "courage to stand" which looks a lot like a campaign biography so we asked him. What makes you think that you'd be qualified to be president?

PAWLENTY: well, I think the country is in big trouble and we need leaders to emerge who understand that and see that clearly and I have a set of experiences as the chief executive of my state in minnesota.

Reporter: he was born and raised in minnesota. The youngest of five children. His father was a truck driver in blue collar south st. Paul. Things were tough and they got tougher when his mom died of cancer.

when you're 16 years old and your dad spent most of his life as a truck driver and you have modest means and you lose your mom, you know it's a scary thing and you look to the future and say, hey, this might not work out so well for me so first I turned to my faith and also learned there is no substitute for hard work.

Reporter: he was the first one in his family to go to college then law school but got interested in politics. First city council then state house and in 2002 governor of minnesota. Minnesota for so long the cradle of liberals like hubert humphrey, walter mondale. Now al franken but pawlenty styles himself a sam's club republican. Fiscally conservative, middle class, emphatically anti-elite. He won praise for holding spending but left a $6 billion deficit. Runs for president as a prairie populist.

PAWLENTY: I think what you got now is people have figured out that the country has been disproportionately influenced by big government, big unions and big business and they have coalesced into an iron triangle to basically screw everybody else.

MCCAIN: sarah palin of the great state of alaska.

Reporter: john McCAIN'S choice of sarah palin as his running mate stunned everyone including tim pawlenty who had been on the very short list of finalists.

PAWLENTY: never had an entitlement mentality so it wasn't that disappointing but as it became possible, of course, your hopes get lifted and you start thinking about it more so, you know, i'd be lying if I didn't say you had some hope for that.

Reporter: that campaign rocketed palin to the pinnacle of the republican party and a possible presidential run. Today pawlenty like every other republican is watching palin's every move and goes out of his way to praise her. So in your judgment she is qualified to be president of the united states.

PAWLENTY: I think she can do a good job as president of the.

Reporter: is there a sense that among the people thinking about running for president in the republican party you are scared of sarah palin?

PAWLENY: sarah palin is a force of nature. Whether she runs or not she'll have a lot of impact on 2012 and the republican party. I don't think it's fair to say people are afraid of her.

Reporter: he also praises the last republican president. George w. Bush.

PAWLENTY: I think george w. Bush will go down in history as a strong and good and great leader.

Reporter: a great leader?

PAWLENTY: well, he certainly didn't do everything perfectly, but this is somebody who had the courage of his convictions. I think history is going to treat him more kindly than the political chatter of the day.

Reporter: but can a guy like pawlenty compete with all the star power in the race this time? You know the general rap on you which is you're too nice. That at the end of the day maybe not enough pizazz for the presidency. Well, how do you answer people who say that?

PAWLENTY: you can either look at pizazz or look at people's records and what they stand or and what they got done and i'll take results rather than pizazz. Pizazz compared to who? I'll concede maybe sarah palin, but really? I mean compared to the other folks who might be running? I think I compare favorably.

Reporter: pawlenty's wife mary is a lawyer and former judge and have been married for 23 years.

MARY PAWLENTY: I thought he was funny. I thought he was warm and engaging and all of those kind of things and I thought he was and over time we became friends first and then started dating after that.

TIM PAWLENTY: I thought she was really hot, terry. I still do.

Reporter: they've got two teenage daughters and share a devout evangelical christian faith.

MARY PAWLENTY: you both know where your hope comes from. You both know that's a cornerstone of who you are and what you believe and in times of great challenge you know where you're going to turn as a team and we both turn to god.

Reporter: if tim pawlenty runs, when he runs, it'll be all uphill for him and he knows it.

PAWLENTY: life is hard. You know, you know, if this were easy, if the only object of the exercise is who has the most money or who is the most well known that's not me. But I think there's some other things the american people will be looking for this time and we got to get back to saying what's good for the country? What's good for everyday americans?

ANCHOR: the first in our series of 2012 contenders. Our thanks to terry moran for that.