Tim Pawlenty on a conference call with supporters and reporters this morning announced he was forming a Presidential exploratory committee. Pawlenty is now the first major candidate to form a committee. He has also posted an announcement video on his Facebook page. (If you haven't "liked" Pawlenty on Facebook you won't be able to see the video there, but we have posted it after the jump for our readers)
Conservative columnist George Will wrote two weeks ago that he sees Pawlenty as one of only five plausible candidates with a real shot at the Presidency.
He's a Governor with a strong conservative record, governing a state that is anything but. He is telegenic, policy smart and promises to be a real force in the primary, and who knows, maybe even a general election against Barack Obama in November of 2012.
As Will pointed out in a column back in October of last year, voters in Northern Iowa are Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings fans, meaning that a good chunk of voters in the kick off state have become aware of Pawlenty's record and persona through a shared media market and favorite sports teams.
Former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, and Denver GOP Lincoln Day Dinner star, Herman Cain, has already formed an exploratory committee, but since he has never held elected office before most observers see his bid as a long shot.
This Texas two-step (or in Pawlenty's case, Minnesota Macarena) around presidential exploratory committees instead of a full blown Presidential campaign committee is purely a tactical move. Pawlenty is running for President — no one thinks otherwise.
By setting up a Presidential exploratory committee, Pawlenty will be able to tap major donors twice — once for the exploratory committee and again when he creates a full Presidential campaign committee.
With the additional early cash in his exploratory committee, Pawlenty will be able to pay for polling, staff and travel that his presidential campaign will benefit from but not have to spend money on.
Through his PAC, Freedom First PAC, Pawlenty has already hired some top notch staff in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
PACs can accept much larger donations from individuals than Presidential exploratory committees can, which will make Pawlenty's new committee a good test of his true fundraising prowess. In the 2010 cycle, Pawlenty's PAC raised a little over $3.3 million, most of which was spent supporting candidates in key states and covering the cost of Pawlenty's political operation.
To make sure that this first test goes well, a staff member on the conference call this morning asked donors to not donate until April 1 — the start of the next fundraising reporting period — so that the first reporting period makes a strong statement about Pawlenty's financial support.
With Pawlenty's announcement, we can now declare the official opening of the Presidential primary campaign of 2012.
Next up for expected announcements in the coming weeks and months: Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, and Mitt Romney. We'll all have to hold our breath for Donald Trump's summertime decision. Check back at Colorado Peak Politics often to find out the latest news in Campaign 2012.