DES MOINES, Iowa – Tim Pawlenty on Monday cast himself as the Republican candidate willing to tell the country hard truths as he seeks the presidency, bluntly announcing in corn-dependent Iowa that its prized federal subsidies for ethanol should be phased out.

“The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out,” the former Minnestoa governor told about 200 Republican activists and supporters in Des Moines in his first public appearance since officially kicking off his White House bid Sunday. “We simply can’t afford them anymore.”

He faces several obstacles in pursuing the nomination: He isn’t well-known nationally and ranks low in popularity polling.

His announcement came hours after Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ decision against a bid jolted the GOP race and brought the field into clearer focus.