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In Coral Gables, Pawlenty praises GOP Medicare plan but doesn't unequivocally back it

Tim Pawlenty brought his fledgling campaign to Coral Gables on Tuesday to introduce himself to coveted Florida voters as the candidate who's not afraid to talk about hard truths.

Pawlenty took on Social Security, the kind of issue that perks ears among Florida's sizable senior population. He called for overhauling the program, in part by gradually raising the retirement age for young workers. Older workers, he said, would not be affected.

But Pawlenty, who officially launched his campaign with a YouTube video on Sunday, did not take an unequivocal stance on a Medicare voucher plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who heads the House budget committee.

"I support the courage, I support the leadership, I support the general direction of it," Pawlenty said of Ryan's proposal. "But I'm going to have my own plan shortly. We'll be rolling it out in the coming weeks and months."

There will be differences with Ryan's plan, Pawlenty added.

Democrats spent Tuesday morning hammering Pawlenty on the issue. "Will he answer this question? If President, would he sign or veto Ryan plan to end Medicare?" tweeted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward Democrat and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Democratic National Committee.

The former Minnesota governor, who officially launched his campaign in a YouTube video Sunday, spoke to reporters outside the Biltmore Hotel, where he earlier held a "town hall" question-and-answer session on Facebook.

Pawlenty had to hold two gaggles with reporters because his campaign moved the news conference to a after first saying it would take place outdoors. A group of cameras stood outside the Biltmore for an hour before Pawlenty came after finishing his first press conference.

He spoke about the importance of Florida in next year's presidential race -- but also made several pointed references to Iowa, the state he visited Monday that holds to first, key caucuses in the primary. It's also the state where Pawlenty -- a Midwesterner and evangelical Christian -- might have the most appeal.

Pawlenty shied away from discussing other candidates, namely presumed GOP leader Mitt Romney: "I don't comment negatively about any other Republican candidate for president, because in the end we're going to have to all be a team." We'll see how long that lasts.

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