Pawlenty took the party endorsement for governor, touting progress in changing Minnesota's "deeply liberal" tradition.
Buoyed by a rising economy, a lower state tax ranking and a successful legislative session, Gov. Tim Pawlenty won by acclamation the hearty backing of his party Friday for four more years.
To the cheers of delegates, flashing lights and blaring country music, Pawlenty took the stage at midafternoon, and in rat-a-tat style he unspooled an image of his potential opponent guaranteed to chill Republicans.
"I can tell you what your worst nightmare is," he said. "It's one of the big-spendin', tax-raisin', abortion-promotin', gay marriage-embracin', more welfare-without-accountability lovin', school reform-resistin', illegal immigration-supportin' Democrats for governor who think Hillary Clinton should be president of the United States."
Pawlenty acknowledged that he hadn't always stayed in sync with the party's conservative base, having supported light rail, large bonding bills and a cigarette fee that many considered a violation of his no-tax pledge.
"I know I've disappointed some of you," he said. But he said he was "working hard every day" to move things in the right direction. "We're fighting a tradition that is deeply liberal. But it's changing. It's changing. And we do not want to go back."
DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez said the governor was running on "a platform of discrimination and exacting revenge." In a statement, Melendez said that "Tim Pawlenty said he wants to be elected so he can enforce the death penalty, ban gay marriage and kick out immigrants ... Where's the forward thinking? ... His leadership has been seriously called into question ... and now he's running back to his right-wing reactionary base to lick his wounds."
'What they came to hear'
Pawlenty's style was folksy, passionate and a bit off-the-cuff.
The DFL, he said, "greets every chance to raise taxes like a rooster greets the sunrise. That's the heart and soul of what they really want to do." Incarceration has risen under his term more rapidly than at any time in state history, he said, adding, "That's a good thing."
Pawlenty also said he had signed "a lot of pro-life legislation" during his time, created 100,000 new jobs and resolved a "historic" budget shortfall."
In mid-speech, Pawlenty held aloft a Friday newspaper story about the state falling to 16th in national tax rankings.
That brought a standing ovation from the crowd as Pawlenty added, "Want to know a scary thing? A whole bunch of people in the DFL think that's a bad thing. That's a good thing."
Attendance inside the windowless convention room was lagging -- just a little more than 1,000 of the 2,000 elected delegates showed up when Pawlenty gave his speech.
But those who attended were enthusiastic on their favorite issues: tighter borders, more abortion restrictions and a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Pawlenty hit all those notes, and House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, later said, "He knows his crowd. Some here may have thought he was too moderate in the past, but today he told them what they came to hear."
Party leaders excluded a would-be opponent for endorsement, Sue Jeffers, owner of Stub & Herb's Bar in Minneapolis. They noted her endorsement for governor by the Libertarian Party earlier in the year.
Her supporters circulated a flier at the convention that criticized Pawlenty for various deviations from the party's fiscally conservative platform, including his support of a sales tax increase to build a new Minnesota Twins stadium.
"There's a lot more issues where he has let this party down," Jeffers said, adding that she is "75 percent certain" she will challenge Pawlenty in the Sept. 12 Republican primary election.
Staff writer Dane Smith contributed to this report. Patricia Lopez 651-222-1288