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Associated Press, Published March 21 2011

AP Sources: Pawlenty to form WH committee, taking first formal step toward seeking nomination for president

ST. PAUL — Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor struggling for name recognition against better-known Republicans eying the presidency, told supporters on Monday that he will take the first formal step toward seeking the nomination, The Associated Press has learned.

Pawlenty planned to announce that he was forming a presidential exploratory committee, according to three Republicans who participated in a 15-minute conference call that included Pawlenty's wife, Mary, and two top advisers. The exploratory committee would clear the way for Pawlenty to raise money and hire campaign staff while requiring him to file formal paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.

The campaign, the Republicans said, would be based in Minnesota.

The participants in the call spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity in advance of a formal statement from Pawlenty at 3 p.m. EDT. He planned to discuss his political future on the social media site Facebook. The participants said Pawlenty was careful not to identify himself as a formal candidate yet.

A top adviser, Phil Musser, urged supporters to wait until April to make campaign donations so the money shows up in the fundraising report for the April-to-June period and not the one for the first three months of this year, when Pawlenty was on a book tour and not aggressively raising cash.

Four years ago, then-Sen. Barack Obama used his first quarter of fundraising to prove he could compete with the race's front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama raised $25 million in the first months of 2007 to Clinton's $26 million. Early fundraising numbers are one of the earliest tests of a candidate's viability.

Pawlenty, a conservative Republican who ran a Democratic-leaning state for two terms, has methodically moved toward a national campaign since announcing in 2009 that he wouldn't seek a third term. Since then, he stepped up his travel to early contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, recruited Republican aides with presidential campaign experience, and courted GOP donors.

With the slow-to-develop GOP field, Pawlenty has made overtures to the fiscal conservatives and tea party activists whose top concerns are Washington spending and the national debt, as well as the social conservatives who oppose abortion and gay rights and hold sway in the leadoff Iowa caucuses. His efforts to appeal to a broad swath of the Republican Party signal that he's trying to cast himself as a candidate who every party member can back.

His biggest hurdle to the nomination may be that he's far less well-known nationally than other Republicans who are expected to run, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney among them. His limited national profile — despite being on GOP nominee John McCain's short list for vice president in 2008 — may make it difficult to raise the millions of dollars needed to wage a credible campaign and build a strong operation.

He enters a wide-open field for the GOP nomination; no less than a dozen Republicans have said they are considering running for the chance to challenge Obama but there's no clear front-runner so far.

But his timing seems odd on a day dominated by international news. Coalition military forces are pounding Libya in support of rebels challenging Col. Moammar Gadhafi, and Japan is struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

Pawlenty, 50, was raised in a Minnesota meatpacking town, the son of a truck-driving father and a mother who died of cancer when he was a teen. He worked in a grocery to pay his way through college.

He began his political career on a suburban planning commission and the Eagan city council. He spent 10 years in the Minnesota House, serving as majority leader before becoming governor in 2002.

Pawlenty styled himself as a no-new-taxes governor, swatting down bill after bill that boosted state taxes. He didn't take as hard a line on fees, and he consented to a 75-cent-per-pack "health impact fee" on cigarettes to end a partial government shutdown one year.

He signed legislation further restricting abortions and making concealed weapons permits more widely available, but social issues were hardly a centerpiece of his tenure. Pawlenty has added emphasis to his record on such issues as he moved toward a presidential run. His autobiography, released in January, was heavy on Bible references and traced his shift from Catholicism to evangelicalism.

Pawlenty still fits in the occasional pickup hockey game, as he did in New Hampshire recently while wearing a "T-Paw 12" jersey. He has a couple of marathon finishes, training alongside his wife, Mary. The couple has two teenage daughters.