He has also made some high-profile hires with an eye toward a presidential bid. Should he run, his team will include Iowa GOP operative Eric Woolson
, who helped shepherd former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
(R) to victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, and New Hampshire GOP strategist Rich Killion
, who advised former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
(R) in 2008.
Pawlenty served as governor of Minnesota from 2003-2011. Well known to Republicans in the state, Pawlenty's national name identification has been low in early polling when compared to other potential candidates like Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
, who have built larger national profiles in previous years.
Pawlenty joins former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain
(R) and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer
(R), who have both officially announced their intentions to form exploratory committees. Gingrich is actively exploring a bid as well, but he has not officially formed an exploratory committee.
At this early stage, it appears that Pawlenty is trying to cast a wide net
and reach out to different arms of the Republican Party. He regularly touts his humble beginnings and is also working to underscore his conservative credentials. Pawlenty's Midwestern roots could make him a candidate to watch in the Iowa caucuses should he run, especially if well-known conservatives do not enter the race. The hiring of Woolson, for example, suggests a serious desire by Pawlenty to make a play in the Hawkeye State.
Romney, who has also been actively laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign and is viewed by many observers as the early front-runner in the race, has yet to officially declare his intentions. Romney's strategy for Iowa - a state in which he finished second in during the 2008 caucuses -- remains an unknown variable, and if Romney decides to focus much more heavily in New Hampshire, it could open up the Iowa race for Pawlenty even more.
The two biggest populist household names -- former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
(R) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin
(R), have yet to declare their intentions, and neither is outwardly making the moves traditionally seen as necessary to lay the groundwork for a national campaign. Former Sen. Rick Santorum
(R-Pa.) appears to be headed toward a run, and while he regularly espouses conservative principles, he is not nearly as well-known as Palin or Huckabee.
Meanwhile, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour
(R) is staffing up and also looks like a candidate who is all but certain to enter the race.