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Tim Pawlenty forms presidential exploratory committee

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, announces the formation of the committee on Facebook in a slick, feel-good video.

March 21, 2011|By Tom Hamburger and Melanie Mason, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who developed a reputation for trimming the growth of spending in his home state, announced Monday afternoon the formation of a presidential exploratory committee.

Reflecting the importance of social media in modern campaigns, Pawlenty, a Republican, made the announcement by way of Facebook, in an online video with the slick production values of a feel-good campaign ad. The nearly two-minute video touched on Pawlenty's biography, recalling the economic downturn that occurred in Minnesota's Twin Cities during his youth.

"I saw up close the face of challenge," he said, "the face of hardship and the face of job loss."

"Over the last year, I traveled to nearly every state in country, and I know many Americans are feeling that way today," he said. "But there is a brighter future for America. We know what we need to do — grow jobs, limit government spending and tackle entitlements."

Pawlenty is the second major likely contender to make such an announcement. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently announced his interest in the presidency and formed a fund to begin collecting money.

Pawlenty already has put together a team in Iowa and New Hampshire and has visited both states repeatedly. In an interview last week, Pawlenty, an evangelical Christian, said he thought he had unique appeal to economic and social conservatives as well as to working-class voters.

"Mine is a blue-collar story," he said. "I think it has some appeal beyond the typical Republican stereotype. We all have visions for what the country needs going forward that may be different. ... I think I would be unique among the potential candidates in my ability to unite the party broadly."

Pawlenty discussed his plans Monday morning in a conference call with his top supporters and potential donors.

"We're doing this not because of a committee or legal steps or compliance, but because this is the greatest nation the world has ever known and it's in trouble, and it needs a new direction, and it needs new leadership," Pawlenty said in the call, according to audio posted by Politico.

Pawlenty called the formation of an exploratory committee "the next step in the process," saying it was not a formal announcement of his candidacy. "But that will — assuming the exploratory committee goes well — that will come soon enough," he said.

Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, a Republican, also has formed an exploratory committee. Top Republicans, including Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, are not expected to take formal steps toward a run for at least another month.

In recent days, Pawlenty has been featured in conservative magazine American Spectator and the National Review touting his chances for winning the nomination and being an effective candidate.

Although he has received praise from national conservatives, he has sometimes run into criticism back home.

A conservative radio talk-show host, Jason Lewis, worried in the past about Pawlenty's accommodation to moderate interests. Several years ago, Pawlenty joined California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as an outspoken advocate of measures to curb global warming, a position Pawlenty now says was a mistake.

"His Achilles' heel is that he bent over backward to placate environmental movement," Lewis said.

Pawlenty, once a strong supporter of cap-and-trade legislation to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, has since renounced those views. In an interview with the National Review earlier this month, he described his previous position as a "clunker."

"It's fair to say I've had a change of position and change of view, and the reason is it's a dumb idea," he told the magazine.

Lewis said Pawlenty's strongest pitch to voters was his record of slowing government spending in Minnesota.

"He's emphasizing his budget bona fides, and I think he's got something to say," said the Minneapolis-based radio host. "His positives on the budget will probably outweigh his negatives on going green." He calls Pawlenty altogether "a very deft politician. …There's a personal factor here: Pawlenty, like him or not, is really an endearing individual -- very unassuming, very everyman."

Pawlenty is hardly a household name, but he has raised his profile nationally in recent months. He had a media tour to promote his new book, "Courage to Stand." He has made a relentless campaign of one-on-one meetings with key activists. Since January 2009, he has made 79 political trips to 39 states to back state and local candidates, his staff said last month.

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