ABC’s Michael Falcone reports:
Former Minnesota governor and likely 2012 Republican presidential contender Tim Pawlenty is taking his message directly to the Tea Party this weekend in a speech that could help make or break his popularity with one of the movement’s largest groups.
Pawlenty is set to deliver a keynote address at the Tea Party Patriots’ first annual policy conference in Phoenix, Ariz. on Saturday. He plans to thanks Tea Party supporters for their role in the Republican Party’s sweeping midterm election victories last November.
"The Tea Party is concerned with holding a line on taxes and spending, and restoring limited government — all priorities for Governor Pawlenty,” an aide to the former governor told ABC News. “The Governor will reiterate his call to hold the line on the debt ceiling, repeal Obamacare and stand up to public employees' unions. He'll talk about his record of conservative success in a liberal state.”
Earlier this month, Pawlenty expressed support for the Tea Party’s efforts to keep the pressure on Republican members of Congress to rein in government spending.
“The fact that the Tea Party and others are pushing for more cuts, deeper cuts, faster reform, that’s a good thing,” Pawlenty said in an interview with NBC News. “I don’t discount that, I applaud it.”
And this week, Pawlenty released a dramatic video in support of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has been at the center of an imbroglio with Democrats and labor unions over his proposal to strip public employees of their right to collectively bargain.
The Patriot’s national coordinator, Jenny Beth Martin, told ABC News that her group reached out to other possible candidates too, but she said most already had other commitments. But not Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., and Georgia businessman Herman Cain, who has already formed an exploratory committee — both plan to be on hand at the conference that kicked off on Friday.
The summit will also include a presidential straw poll, the results of which will be announced on Sunday.
“If I were telling someone who was running for president what I think the most important thing is that they need to be talking about,” Martin said, “it’s what they are going to do to get our budget under control. It’s definitely the issue that is on everyone’s mind.”
The “American Policy Summit” marks the second anniversary of the founding of the Tea Party movement and Martin said she hopes that it will offer the 2,000 activists who are expected to attend the chance to flesh out their views on key issues.
The three-day event will feature appearances by other leading figures in conservative politics, including Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Texas Congressmen Joe Barton and Louie Gohmert, media personalities Andrew Brietbart and Dana Loesch and Media Research Center founder Brent Bozell.
ABC News’ Amy Bingham contributed reporting to this post.