It was an obvious reference Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is leading Pawlenty in polls in a state he has said he must do well in to keep his candidacy alive.
"One of the reasons we're in this mess is because we put Barack Obama in the White House and he wasn't ready for the job," the former Minnesota governor said.
"Before we put the new person in that office, let's make sure that he or she is ready for the job," Pawlenty said, sparring with Bachmann from afar. "This is a job that requires leadership experience, executive experience and a record of results."
Pawlenty has spent weeks in Iowa courting voters ahead of this weekend's Ames straw poll, an early test of campaign organization and enthusiasm. He faces a tough fight in trying to overtake Bachmann, a tea party favorite who is popular with evangelicals who make up the base of the GOP electorate here.