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Tim Pawlenty to make move toward presidential run

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is set to announce today that he's forming a presidential exploratory committee. He has told supporters they can get an 'exclusive' look at his plans on Facebook.

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, is expected to announce Monday afternoon the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, according to his campaign staff.

Reflecting the importance of social media in modern campaigns, Pawlenty is promising his supporters an "exclusive" look at his plans in a message to be posted on Facebook at 3 p.m.

The announcement makes him the second major candidate 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.

His PAC contributed nearly $400,000 to 208 candidates around the country. In the pivotal nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire, he has set up local PACs that have doled out money to candidates for agriculture commissioner, sheriff and state representative. And he has picked up notable state-level supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire. A source close to the campaign said Pawlenty was still trying to determine precise financial goals but hoped to raise $25 million to carry him through those early states.

His Iowa team includes some state stars. His advisers there include Sarah Taylor Fagen and Terry Nelson, both Iowa natives and national campaign veterans. Fagen, who worked closely with GOP strategist Karl Rove, has experience with polling and the micro-targeting techniques that helped George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Nelson also served in both Bush campaigns. The policy director for Pawlenty's federal PAC, Freedom First, got his start in Iowa politics.

Locally, Pawlenty has the support of Chuck Larson, a former state GOP chairman who was a Bush campaign co-chair, an adviser to John McCain in 2008. The Pawlenty team also is working with Karen Slifka, a consultant who formerly served as Midwest regional political director for the Republican National Committee and directed the Midwest grass-roots campaign for Bush's 2004 reelection.

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

melanie.mason@latimes.com

Michael A. Memoli of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report

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