By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House candidate Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday appeared to soften his call for achieving economic growth of 5 percent a year, calling it an "aspirational" goal.
A day after unveiling his economic policies in a speech at the University of Chicago, the former Minnesota governor told CNBC the United States needs an ambitious growth target, bolstered by tax cuts and deregulation, to free the economy from expectations of a decade of slow growth.
"We're not going to accept anemic growth. We're not going to accept standing still. We're going to have a big aspirational goal. So that's going to be 5 percent GDP. It's a goal," Pawlenty said.
That contrasts with his remarks in Chicago, where he described 5 percent growth in gross domestic product as a realistic objective and "not some pie-in-the-sky number."
Pawlenty, who trails several other Republican presidential contenders in opinion polls, hopes to raise his national profile among rank-and-file Republican voters with his upbeat, tax-and-deficit cutting, deregulating message.
"This is what they believe in their hearts, in their heads and in their guts," said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think-tank and a former adviser to Democratic President Bill Clinton.
"So why shouldn't Pawlenty get out there aggressively with a program that tells people that, as president, he will do exactly what they believe ought to be done?"
Pawlenty's growth target was greeted by doubts among economists. Most put U.S. long-term growth potential in the 2-3 percent range and say a 5 percent growth rate is associated more with emerging markets.
The Wall Street Journal, a leading conservative voice in U.S. politics, gave its overall approval to Pawlenty's policies on Wednesday but questioned whether 5 percent was achievable.
"It's true that the economy grew 4.9 percent on average between 1983 and 1987, and nearly 4.7 percent between 1996 and 1999. Yet such long booms are rare in developed economies and we can't recall one that's lasted 10 years," the newspaper said in an editorial.
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)