Image: Pawlenty
Brian Frank  /  REUTERS
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty speaks during the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's Spring Event at Point of Grace Church in Waukee, Iowa March 7, 2011.
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updated 3/21/2011 4:57:12 PM ET 2011-03-21T20:57:12

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty on Monday became the first major Republican presidential candidate in a slow-to-gel field, launching an exploratory committee for the 2012 race.

In a Hollywood-style web video designed to appeal to conservative tea partyers and establishment Republicans alike, Pawlenty urged Republican Party backers to join him to "take back our government. This is our country."

"Today, I'm announcing the formation of an exploratory committee to run for president of the United States," Pawlenty said.

The move almost certainly will lead to a full-blown candidacy for the Republican nomination.

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Pawlenty, 50, has methodically moved toward a national campaign since announcing in 2009 that he wouldn't seek a third gubernatorial term.

With video, Tim Pawlenty makes it official

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

Pawlenty is taking the most concrete steps toward a White House run, raising money and announcing he will file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. Earlier in the day, he told allies he would base a presidential campaign in Minnesota.

Even so, he remains an unknown in a field that lacks a front-runner. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted earlier this month found roughly six in 10 voters had no opinion of Pawlenty.

In the video, Pawlenty played up his humble roots and the challenges facing the country. He says he knows the pain facing Americans in this tough economy.

"At a young age, I saw up close the face of challenge, the face of hardship and the face of job loss. Over the last year I've traveled to nearly every state in the country and I know many Americans are feeling that way today. I know that feeling. I lived it," Pawlenty said.

"But there is a brighter future for America."

With video, Tim Pawlenty makes it official

The Republican presidential field has been slow to form compared to past election cycles as familiar names such as Sarah Palin mull bids and other potential hopefuls like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich work behind the scenes on their candidacies.

The harsh media spotlight and the expense of a full-blown campaign operation deterred Republicans from early official announcements in the expected race against President Barack Obama, who is certain to raise hundreds of millions of dollars.

Gingrich has said he is testing the waters, and the FEC makes no distinction between that step and an exploratory committee. However, Pawlenty's actions move him closer to an official announcement.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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