Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) will announce an exploratory committee for a presidential campaign Monday afternoon, an aide said. The move will make him the first serious contender for the Republican nomination to set up such a committee.
Mr. Pawlenty is expected to make his announcement at 3:00 p.m. via Facebook, a sign of how important social media have become in politics.
Though not well known among the general public nationally, Pawlenty is respected in conservative circles for his budget-cutting during two terms as governor of Democratic-leaning Minnesota. He wins points for his affable, mild-mannered personal style, but that can also translate into a lack of charisma that could make him hard to notice in a crowded Republican field. Pawlenty, an evangelical Christian, is also a committed social conservative.
Pawlenty has been methodically preparing the way for a presidential run for many months – assembling advisers , traveling to early primary states, raising money for his political action committee, releasing a book – so his announcement comes as no surprise. But by being the first of the serious players to launch an exploratory committee, he is likely hoping for a boost from the free media that comes with being first.
“From now on, he will be identified as first to announce,” says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. “That gives an indication that he’s working it hard – and people usually want to give the nomination to someone who’s working hard.”
Vin Weber, co-chairman of Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC, says in an interview that there was never an intention to be first or to avoid going first.
“We actually discussed that at one point, and I don’t think that mattered to him or the team,” Mr. Weber says. “One of the advantages that Tim Pawlenty has is that he has been very straightforward, very systematic, and very well-organized about his pursuit of a presidential candidacy. He has been less coy than others.”
Among the long shots already in the “exploratory committee” phase of the Republican race to replace President Obama are Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather pizza, and Fred Karger, a longtime Republican operative who is openly gay.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich showed all the signs of preparing to announce an exploratory committee earlier this month, but pulled back and declared that he was “exploring” a possible run. The mixed signals may have damaged his chances of breaking into the top tier of Republican hopefuls.
By establishing a formal exploratory committee with the Federal Election Committee, Pawlenty will now be allowed to raise campaign money and hire more staff.
Pawlenty has also been reaching out aggressively to the tea party movement, a signal of the important role it will play in determining the Republican nominee. But in Pawlenty’s case, it is also a sign that he needs to get beyond his mild-mannered image and establish his bona fides as a true conservative. The challenge for him, as with all the other potential Republican hopefuls, will be to avoid being seen as too close to the tea party. Winning over the independent vote in the general election will be the key to success.