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DOVER, N.H. - Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty joined longtime friend and political mentor John McCain on the senator's reenergized presidential campaign through the New Hampshire countryside on Saturday, calling McCain "one of the greatest leaders this country has ever seen."

Pawlenty, a co-chairman of McCain's national campaign, made the hasty trip to New Hampshire on Friday and is scheduled to introduce the Arizona Republican at a series of town hall meetings through the weekend.

"The best sermons aren't preached, they're lived," Pawlenty told a gathered crowd. "You are going to hear a lot of people from ads and speeches where the words are interesting. But I hope you will put the yardstick not around the words but around the people who have walked the sermon."

Pawlenty has often represented McCain at campaign events, particularly in neighboring Iowa, and said the campaign decided the two should work together on several dates in December and January.

Pawlenty's trip to New Hampshire comes as the Jan. 8 presidential primary, which follows the Iowa caucuses, approaches. It also comes as McCain seems to have regained some momentum after his early lead in New Hampshire evaporated one month earlier. Recent statewide polls show him closing the gap with longtime front-runner Mitt Romney.

McCain, who campaigned for Pawlenty during his reelection bid in 2006 and included the governor on several trips to Iraq, described Pawlenty as a "dear friend and the next generation of leadership in America."

In jest, he told weekend crowds that Pawlenty decided to come to New Hampshire because "it was too cold in Minnesota."

Although many New Hampshire voters at Saturday's events didn't seem immediately familiar with Pawlenty, some did recall his performance on national news shows after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in August.

One woman recalled seeing him on Fox news programs, and said she remembered his name because "it sounded like a fine Italian wine."

Pawlenty's appearance on the national stage with McCain is sure to rekindle speculation of Pawlenty's national ambitions. In some circles, particularly in Minnesota, Pawlenty is often mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate on a McCain ticket.

As he has done in the past, Pawlenty dismissed the speculation on Saturday, saying that he and McCain have never discussed the possibility. Still, a number of New Hampshire's state Republican leaders, including Fergus Cullen, chairman of the Republican state committee, called Pawlenty an emerging leader.

Introducing McCain at a VFW hall in Merrimack, N.H., Pawlenty said that the times demand a different kind of leader and that McCain's experience as a war hero and character make him uniquely qualified. Neither McCain nor Pawlenty was openly critical of any other Republican candidate during several campaign stops. Pawlenty and McCain do differ on a number of issues, including McCain's opposition to ethanol subsidies.

Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636