Tim Pawlenty: Republicans need to "get off the sidelines" of presidential race

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 13: Former Republican Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty listens to his introduction during an appearance at the National Press Club to speak about his memoir 'Courage to Stand: An American Story' January 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. Pawlenty, mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate for the 2012 election, also took questions following his address. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Ahead of Thursday night's Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told CBS News that GOP presidential hopefuls need to "get off the sidelines" if they want to defeat President Obama next year.

"Those of us who think we have the answer to get [the nation] back on track need to offer that up," Pawlenty told CBS News Political correspondent Jan Crawford. "President Obama is going to be difficult to beat, he's going to raise a billion dollars, and he's a gifted campaigner, so we need to get off the sidelines and make our case to the American people."

Pawlenty is arguably the only top-tier potential Republican candidate participating in the debate, the first of the 2012 cycle. Also present will be former Godfather's Pizza Chief Executive Herman Cain, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

He said he decided to participate in the debate because people considering running for president should subject themselves to questions and share their perspective.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

"We've got $4 a gallon gas, we've got unbearable levels of unemployment, we've got a federal government that's out of control," he told Crawford. "And the hour is later than people realize, and we've got to get this thing back on track."

Pawlenty said that potential candidates who decided to stay away from the debate were not irresponsible, but added, "it is now May."

"If it was December or January I think we could say, 'you know, wait a while,'" but it's later than people think," he said.

Pawlenty said he wants to see the private sector grow and said most business leaders are "discouraged and burdened" by President Obama's policies.

"We now live under an administration that thinks they should tell companies where and how they should grow in America," he said. "It's an outrageous position."

Pawlenty also acknowledged that his appearance at the debate was a risk, but siggested it was a necessary one.

"If you're going to run and offer you as a candidate for president of the United States, you can't duck, bob, weave, hide, you've got to show up, take the questions, share your visions, stand in there," he said. "This is not tiddlywinks or beanbags, we've got to get at it."

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