Promising "we the people of the United States will take back our government," former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty took the first step toward officially launching a presidential campaign on Monday afternoon, announcing the formation of an exploratory committee in a video posted on his Facebook page.
"This is our country. Our founding fathers created it, Americans embraced it, Ronald Reagan personified it, and Lincoln stood courageously to protect it. And that's why today, I'm announcing the formation of an exploratory committee to run for president of the United States," Pawlenty declared in the two-minute video.
The Republican ex-governor invokes his hard-luck upbringing in the video. "At a young age, I saw up close the face of challenge, the face of hardship, and the face of job loss," he says. "Over the last year, I've traveled to nearly every state in the country and I know many Americans are feeling that way today. I know that feeling—I lived it."
Pawlenty has been steadily moving toward a presidential bid over the last few months, visiting key, early primary states and attracting supporters. His campaign is likely to be based in the Twin Cities, sources said.
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 to victory in the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses, and New Hampshire GOP strategist Rich Killion, who advised former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 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 former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who have built larger national profiles in previous years.
Pawlenty will join a pair of other Republicans, former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, 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 segments of the Republican Party. He regularly touts his humble beginnings and is also working to underscore his conservative credentials. Should he run, Pawlenty's Midwestern roots could make him a candidate to watch in the Iowa caucuses, 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 -- where he finished second in the 2008 caucuses -- remains unknown; if he decides to focus much more heavily in New Hampshire, it could open up the Iowa race to Pawlenty even more.
The two biggest populist household names, former governors Huckabee and Sarah Palin of Alaska, have yet to declare their intentions, and neither is publically 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; while he regularly espouses conservative principles, he is not nearly as well-known as Palin or Huckabee. Meanwhile, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is staffing up and also looks like a candidate who is all but certain to enter the race.