Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty talks with reporters prior to a fundraising dinner Wednesday, May 18, 2011 in Minneapolis. Several hundred people gave up to $2,500 per person to attend what aides were calling his biggest fundraising event of the financial quarter. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a laid-back Midwestern Republican who governed a Democratic-leaning state, is running for president and will declare his candidacy on Monday in the leadoff caucus state of Iowa, an adviser told The Associated Press.
The adviser, who disclosed the plans on the condition of anonymity in advance of next week's announcement, said Pawlenty will formally enter the race during a town hall-style event in Des Moines, Iowa.
He's choosing to make his long-expected bid official in a critical state in his path to the GOP nomination. Advisers acknowledge that Pawlenty, 50, must win or turn in a strong showing during next winter's caucuses in the neighboring state of Iowa to have any chance of becoming the Republican who will challenge President Barack Obama, a Democrat, next November.
After Monday's announcement, he will head to Florida, New Hampshire, New York and Washington, D.C.
The move is no surprise.
Pawlenty been laying the groundwork for a national campaign since John McCain passed him over in 2008 as his vice presidential nominee. He has worked to boost his national profile, assemble a staff, travel the country and build a fundraising network, all while positioning himself as a Republican with a record of resisting increases in taxes and government spending. He left the governor's post in January and he took the first step toward the presidency two months later by setting up an exploratory committee.
In the early stages of the campaign, he has struggled to raise his standing in polls or attract a niche constituency as Republicans with more star power — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and celebrity businessman Donald Trump — dangled themselves as possible candidates, only to opt out of bids.
Pawlenty has some big obstacles as he seeks the GOP nomination in a wide-open field.
He is not nearly as well known nationally as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and even libertarian-leaning Texas Rep. Ron Paul. And others with even bigger names — Sarah Palin — still may enter the fray. So too may a fellow Minnesotan, Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is a darling of the tea party and has indicated she's likely to launch a campaign soon.
The low-key Pawlenty also is fighting an impression at least within the GOP establishment that he's too bland to excite voters. He also has no personal wealth and isn't uniquely aligned with any one Republican faction — like social conservatives or fiscal Republicans — as are other candidates.
But in a GOP field with no clear favorite, Pawlenty hopes that he can cobble together a winning coalition of voters by attracting a wide array of Republicans, from religious conservatives to tea party adherents to establishment figures. As he travels the country, he boasts of reining in state spending and blocking tax hikes during two terms as Minnesota's governor, as well as stressing his working-class roots and evangelical Christian faith.
"I'm the only candidate in the field who can unite the whole Republican Party, not just one part of it, in a genuine and authentic way, and then go out an appeal to the whole country," Pawlenty said this week before a fundraiser in Minnesota.
He points to his record in Minnesota as proof that he can have appeal across the ideological spectrum.
Pawlenty, who passed up an opportunity to run for a third term as governor to seek the presidency, won the governors' office twice without a majority of the vote in races that included third-party candidates. During his tenure, Pawlenty had to contend with a Legislature that was partly or fully controlled by Democrats the eight years he was governor.
Minnesota's divided government led to repeated legislative battles and a partial government shutdown one year. Pawlenty also frequently vetoed tax and spending bills, earning a reputation in the GOP as a fiscal conservative. He pleased social conservatives as well by signing new abortion restrictions and laws favored by pro-gun groups.
But some of his past actions also have drawn tea party skepticism.
Even some Republicans flinched when he used billions in federal stimulus dollars and once agreed to hike state cigarette charges to balance Minnesota's budget. And Democrats pound him frequently over the $5 billion deficit his Minnesota successor is coping with for the upcoming state budget, although the state will turn a small surplus this summer when the last fiscal year under Pawlenty's direct control ends.
Pawlenty's former embrace of energy policies scorned by conservatives — such as a cap-and-trade system to limit emissions of greenhouse gases — have also been problematic. Pawlenty has disavowed his former stance and apologized for the "clunker" in his record.
Even so, it's not his record that's likely to be his biggest challenge. It's being heard in a crowded field.
Part of the reason: unlike others, he typically shies from the caustic comments and headline-grabbing issues. It's part of a strategy to come off as a serious-minded candidate in sober times. But his approach has also played into the characterization of him as dull.
Advisers hope that Pawlenty's ability to connect with small crowds in diners and living rooms will help him win over skeptics in the places where he needs to shine — Iowa and New Hampshire, where voters demand their candidates engage in that type of retail politics. He's somewhat of a natural at it. He's good with small talk, often makes goofy poses in keepsake photos and sticks around to shake all hands, helping explain why he's notoriously behind schedule.
In those settings, he discusses not just what he'd do for the country but also much about his personal story: his boyhood in a blue-collar household in a meatpacking town, his mother's death of cancer in his teen years. As an adult, he went on to a white-collar job as a lawyer and set down a political path took him from a suburban city hall to a seat in the state Legislature to, eventually, the governor's post.
"He is doing the soft sell and the soft sell works in the long run," said Andy Brehm, a Republican strategist in Minnesota. "This is an entirely self-made guy. I don't think you could ask for a better spokesman for the free market ideas. He's worked himself up really from nothing."
Pawlenty and his wife, Mary, a former judge. They have two teenage daughters, Anna and Mara.