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“I think government is too big and it needs to be slowed down, and needs to be made more efficient,” he said.

As Minnesota governor, he has closed a budget gap without raising broad-based taxes, though he did turn to some fee increases. Conservative groups gave him high marks early, though he has taken a dip on some ratings.

Mr. Pawlenty brushes away questions about becoming the Republican vice-presidential nominee. “All I say is that it’s an honor to be mentioned,” he said. “I have stopped engaging in the speculation.”

Just in case, the governor’s advisers have at hand a list of his foreign-relations experience. Mr. Pawlenty also seems practiced at attacking Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and bringing conversations back to Mr. McCain.

At the opening of a Republican Party headquarters in Iowa on Saturday, Mr. Pawlenty brought along a tire air pressure gauge to mock Mr. Obama’s advice to consumers to keep their tires inflated to conserve gas. He called voting for the Democrat “the political equivalent of bungee jumping.”

A day earlier, he observed the one-year anniversary of the disaster when the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people and injuring more than 140.

The disaster was viewed as Mr. Pawlenty’s equivalent to the Sept. 11 attacks. People who watched him in the days afterward said he reminded them of the resolve President Bush showed standing on the rubble pile in New York after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Mr. Pawlenty has been elected twice in liberal-leaning Minnesota, but never with the majority of the vote. He won in 2002 with 44 percent of the vote thanks to a strong third-party candidate, and held on to a 47 percent to 46 percent edge in his 2006 re-election bid.

As governor of Minnesota, Mr. Pawlenty is host to this year’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul. He said it will be a chance “to update people’s views of Minnesota.”

Some pundits say the conventions have become stale. Last week, the Hill newspaper reported that Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Republicans running for House seats to skip the convention because it would be a “waste of time.”

Mr. Pawlenty said voters still have reasons to pay attention because it’s the first time the presidential and vice-presidential nominees have the national stage to themselves: “It’s one moment where we … kind of tune in and say we get the measure of the person.”