Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was still introducing himself and trying to win over voters one handshake at a time as he readies himself for a debate and straw poll that could make or break his nascent campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Wearing blue jeans and a checkered button-down shirt, Pawlenty strode into a newly opened Republican party headquarters in the tiny farming town of Grinnell Saturday and spent an hour talking about his record as governor and trying to persuade voters that he could win a General Election.

“The main way we’re going to goof this up as Republicans is to nominate the wrong candidate,” Pawlenty said. All Republican candidates will talk about the need to cut spending and change Washington, but “we need to make sure we’ve got a candidate who has the experience, the record and the sturdiness” to beat President Obama, he said.

Roughly three dozen gray-haired voters questioned Pawlenty about his background, his loyalty to the Republican Party, his views on gay marriage and, most importantly, how he would turn around the sputtering economy.

Pawlenty pledged to pare back government regulations on business, saying he doesn’t want to “change” Washington but “defeat” it.

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