In a speech Wednesday to Republican governors in Miami, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the GOP must change and grow or face the prospect of becoming irrelevant in a changing nation.

Pawlenty, whose national profile rose significantly this year while he was being considered as a running mate for John McCain, said that the party must find ways to compete in regions dominated by Democrats -- the Northeast, the West Coast and, increasingly, the Great Lakes and mid-Atlantic states. He also said it must win more support among women, Hispanics and blacks.

"The country is changing culturally, demographically, technologically, economically and the like. And the Republican Party isn't changing in a way that reflects those major or macro changes across the country," Pawlenty said, according to a New York Times report.

Republicans need to be farsighted on such issues as energy, health care and education, and broaden their appeal to working-class families and small-business owners, he said.

It was a familiar theme for Pawlenty, who spoke often last summer about the need for the party to appeal to "Sam's Club Republicans" rather than country club Republicans. But "modernizing" the party doesn't mean the GOP needs to surrender conservative values, he said: "We can be both conservative and we can be modern."

"We're going to have our differences," he said, according to MSNBC. "But in places like the Northeast and Minnesota and out west, there aren't enough Republicans to throw people overboard."

Sarah Janecek, a Republican strategist and publisher of Politics in Minnesota, said she agreed with Pawlenty.

"Republicans had the power when Newt Gingrich rode in with the Contract with America [in 1994], and we screwed it up," she said. Pawlenty, she said, is on the short list of national leaders important to the party's future.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who wound up as McCain's running mate, is slated to address the conference today.

The New York Times contributed to this report. Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455