Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is taking the next step toward a White House bid today with the formation of a presidential campaign exploratory committee.
A person with knowledge of Pawlenty’s plans said to expect an announcement this afternoon on Facebook. Pawlenty’s page says the announcement will come at 2 p.m. Minnesota time. Such a committee would allow Pawlenty to begin raising money for a presidential campaign.
For more than a year Pawlenty has been traveling the nation criticizing President Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders and sounding like a candidate for president. His most recent trips came last week to South Carolina and New Hampshire.
Pawlenty’s Freedom First political action committee has been bankrolling much of that travel and has already assembled an experienced campaign team.
One of Sen. John McCain’s top fundraising experts from his 2008 presidential run, Brian Haley, serves as the finance director for the PAC.
Senior advisors to Pawlenty include Terry Nelson, formerly the Bush-Cheney ’04 political director, and director of political operations at the Republican National Committee.
Other top-level advisors are Phil Musser and Sarah Taylor. Musser was one of Mitt Romney’s senior advisors during the last cycle. Taylor worked on the Bush campaign and served as Bush’s White House Political Director.
Potential candidates can spend lots of money on exploratory operations such as polling, travel and focus groups. Potential candidates are not required to register exploratory committees with the Federal Election Commission but many do to make for a smoother transition to full-fledged campaigns.
Pawlenty, a Republican, was first elected governor of Minnesota in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. The signature issue of his time as governor was his “no new taxes” pledge, although he did agree to impose a statewide fee on cigarettes. His political opponents also said his policies caused property taxes and other fees to rise dramatically during his tenure.
He was on the short list of McCain’s potential running mates in 2008, but was left out when McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin instead. It’s unclear whether Palin will run for president in 2012.