ST. PAUL, Minn. — Republican Tim Pawlenty, trying to carve out a national identity as he tilts toward a presidential campaign, sculpts an image as a faith-based politician in a memoir infused with Bible verses and the flavor of his blue-collar upbringing.
The former Minnesota governor is out with "Courage to Stand: An American Story," a 301-page autobiography that concludes with a stinging critique of President Barack Obama and a glimpse at what can be viewed as a 2012 platform.
"If I can help to shape America's future for the better in any small way, then it is my duty, and my honor to serve in whatever capacity I can," is as close as he comes in the book to announcing a campaign. He has said he will probably hold back on a final decision until March.
Tuesday is the book's official release, but The Associated Press purchased copies Thursday from store shelves in Roseville, Minn., and Madison, Wis.
Little known compared to rivals Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and others, Pawlenty uses the book to trace a path from a boyhood handling rotten meat in a stockyards town to a political career that made him a vice presidential contender in 2008.
And Pawlenty, who was raised Catholic and later converted to an evangelical church with Baptist roots, heavily emphasizes religion. It's befitting a book from Christian publisher Tyndale House Publishers and a possible political calculation for someone sizing up a White House bid since ruling out a third term as governor.
Social conservatives have an outsized voice in the GOP nominating process, especially in Iowa, where Pawlenty has focused much of his campaign-building work.
An entrance poll done during the 2008 Iowa caucuses found that more than half of the Republicans who turned out described themselves as evangelical Christians, and more than eight in 10 of caucus winner Mike Huckabee's supporters described themselves as born again or evangelical.
During a summer swing there, Pawlenty referenced faith in his speeches and attended church services with a Republican up-and-comer. Last year, he also made an unpublicized appearance at a gathering of Iowa pastors.
As Minnesota's governor, Pawlenty was public in his faith. But his book takes it much further.
He takes readers to the Catholic church in South St. Paul where he first "absorbed God's presence in my life" and carries them through his conversion to Wooddale Church, an interdenominational evangelical megachurch. He describes how he leaned on God when as a teenager his mother died of cancer at age 50, Pawlenty's current age.
Along the way, he shares stories of faith chats with a parking lot attendant at the law firm where he and his wife, Mary, worked and of a prayer circle he brought together as governor for a family who lost a young girl in a tornado. Bible passages dot the text to underscore his message.
Pawlenty said he doesn't presume God "is on my side in matters of public policy. It matters more that I continue to search for wisdom, striving instead to be on God's side."
"I know where my help comes from," Pawlenty adds in another chapter. "God has given each of us time, talents, skills, abilities and resources. We need to use those gifts for a cause and purpose beyond our individual circumstances. For me so far, that has led to public service."
A speech Thursday at the National Press Club serves as the official launch of his book tour, which includes stops in Iowa and New Hampshire. Pawlenty's term ended last week, leaving him without a political office for the first time in more than two decades.
The book supplies Pawlenty's vision for the country: lower taxes, loosened business regulations, a freeze on federal government hiring, more school choice, a repeal of Obama's signature health law and a harder line with America's enemies. Pawlenty devotes ample space to picking apart Obama's decisions on domestic and foreign policy, largely echoing GOP talking points.
"The candidate who promised to change the way Washington worked has only made things worse as President," Pawlenty writes of Obama, blaming the Democratic leader for bailouts, rising federal debt and foreign dealings where the president "readily apologizes for his country while ingratiating himself to our rivals and enemies."
He spends considerable time touting his record as governor, mainly his efforts to block tax increases and slow down state spending. Pawlenty couches in regret a 75-cent-per-pack "fee" on cigarettes, a rare blemish and vulnerability on his fiscal record. It was the way out of a budget stalemate that produced a partial government shutdown.
"To this day, I still wrestle with whether I should've let that shutdown run longer," he says.Comment on this story
Pawlenty's jokester side pokes through at times, particularly when he gives a humorous spin to his closest brush so far with national politics — being passed over in 2008 as running mate to John McCain.
Cable news stations already were reporting Palin as McCain's pick before the senator gave Pawlenty a courtesy call that morning. After he hung up, Pawlenty writes, he decided to take his dog for a walk.
"As I put the little bag over my hand and bent down to pick up her poop, I thought to myself, well, this is the only number two I'll be picking up today," Pawlenty writes.
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this report from Madison, Wis.