Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty accused President Obama and Democrats of "coddling" unions and applauded the Tea Party movement as "modern-day Paul Reveres."

Speaking to a convention of Tea Party activists in Phoenix on Saturday, the Republican White House hopeful sounded a populist tone while blasting unions and Democrats. "Thank you for standing up to the ruling class ... and big bailed-out businesses," he told attendees.


Pawlenty has taken an increasingly tough tone in recent weeks when talking about Obama as he seeks to endear himself to a Republican primary electorate ahead of an expected presidential run next year.

The former governor said he wasn't one to "question the existence of the president's birth certificate," which drew laughs from the audience. "But when you listen to his policies, don't you at least think, what planet is he from?" he said. "We don't share President Obama's world view."

Pawlenty cited the labor standoff in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) has proposed stripping public-sector employees of collective-bargaining rights and rolling back their benefits.

Obama said recently that the move seemed to be "an assault on unions."

"And I think it's very important for us to understand that public employees, they're our neighbors, they're our friends," the president told WTMJ TV.

Holding up a copy of the Constitution, Pawlenty said the government wasn't mandated to "coddl[e] out of control public employee unions."

"Mr. President, Wisconsin does not need a lecture from somebody who's never balanced a budget in his life," he said.

Pawlenty touted his record during two terms as governor of Minnesota. "I cut spending in real terms for the first time in my state's 150-year history," he said.

He cited Jimmy McMillan, a quixotic candidate for governor of New York, who ran last year on the slogan "rent is too damn high."

"So here's our simple motto, the government's too damn big," said Pawlenty. "America needs job growth, not government growth."

He speech drew a standing ovation from the crowd.