With the wide-open battle for the Republican presidential nomination solidifying, Tim Pawlenty moved quickly Monday to offer himself as the leading alternative to presumptive front-runner Mitt Romney and to seize the mantle of a tough, truth-talking fiscal conservative.

In formally announcing his campaign here, Pawlenty sought to command the space that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels would have occupied had he decided to run. The former Minnesota governor cast himself as a serious candidate for serious times and presented a bold agenda to substantially scale back the role of government.

Pawlenty said he would downsize or eliminate popular programs, including gradually raising the retirement age for Social Security, overhauling Medicare and phasing out ethanol subsidies — not normally a popular position in this farm-heavy state.

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