GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Over the past month, Tim Pawlenty's response to questions gauging his interest in being chosen as vice president have ranged from "take my name off the list" to "anybody would be honored to serve if asked."
But speaking to reporters on Saturday after an impassioned address at the North Carolina Republican Convention, the former presidential candidate maintained he is not sending mixed messages.
"I think I can help [Romney] in other ways like this, being a volunteer for his campaign. But obviously anybody would be honored if asked," Pawlenty said. "But, beyond that, I don't think those two things are inconsistent. I'm trying to signal that I could best serve him in a different way, but anybody would be honored to serve if asked."
Speaking to more than 1,000 Republicans here in an important swing state, the former Minnesota governor and national co-chair of the Romney campaign showed why he has established himself as one of the GOP nominee's top surrogates. He drew high praise for his speech urging conservatives to unite in opposition to President Barack Obama. Many in the crowd said he they found Pawlenty to be an even more impressive speaker than Donald Trump, who took the stage the night before.
Pawlenty acknowledged that he has been able to find a level of comfort now that he had not been able to as a candidate. Asked what accounted for the change, he said, "I don't know the answer to that, other than that I speak from the heart now, I don't particularly use a script now other than a few notes. I don't have a bunch of handlers telling me what to do and I just let it fly."
He fired up the North Carolina crowd talking about their importance as a swing state, throwing in much of the same speech he used while a candidate, but mixing it with praise for Romney's vision for America. His message was that it was time for conservatives to come together.
"If we're going to win as a conservative movement, we got to recognize that we're a team," Pawlenty said. "And so when the Vikings or the Hurricanes and other teams go out and practice with each other as teammates, they don't go out and smash each other in the boards or knock each other out when they're practicing as teammates, do they?"
He added, "It's important that we recognize the coalition of conservatives consists of economic conservatives, and social conservatives and tea party conservatives and libertarian conservatives and security and defense conservatives and more. And no one group can win the swing states or most states by themselves."
One of those team members includes Trump, who in his address the night before again brought up questions about the president's place of birth. It's the reason some feel the business mogul overshadowed Romney last Tuesday when they held a fundraiser together -- the same day the former Massachusetts governor secured the 1,144 delegates to earn the Republican nomination.
"Donald Trump is trying to do what he can to advance the cause to try to get Mitt Romney elected president. ... So he's a somebody who can get attention, who can bring perspective to issues. But also, he's part of team and a team needs to work together. And that doesn't mean that everybody agrees on every issue," Pawlenty said.