A team of Republican consultants with experience on the presidential level will help run Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's new political action committee, which could be the forerunner of a 2012 White House campaign.
Pawlenty filed paperwork Thursday with federal regulators to form his Freedom First PAC, a national fundraising committee he can use to aid GOP candidates in upcoming elections. Past candidates have started such committees to raise their profile ahead of a full-blown presidential campaign, a possibility Pawlenty hasn't ruled out.
Pawlenty introduces himself and touches on his anti-tax, strong-defense political philosophy in a video message on a new Web site that went live Thursday. It invites visitors to "Meet TPaw," a shorthand for a guy with an often mispronounced Polish surname (it's puh-LEHN'-tee).
"This is an important time in America. The stakes are high and standing on the sidelines isn't an option. I'm making a commitment to you to fight for our principles," he said. "I'm asking for your support and I want to hear your voice."
The committee's strategic and political planning team includes consultant Terry Nelson, who was involved in the presidential campaigns of Republicans George W. Bush and John McCain. Also on board is former Bush White House political director Sara Taylor, former Federal Election Commission chairman Michael Toner and former Republican Governors Association executive director Phil Musser.
The PAC's co-chairmen are William Strong, vice chairman at investment bank Morgan Stanley, and Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman and partner of a Washington lobbying firm who advised Republican Mitt Romney during a 2008 presidential bid. Weber said his involvement shouldn't be seen as a shift in allegiances.
"I'm not in the business of making endorsements for candidates for president yet," Weber said.
He added: "There's no question that some of these people are clearly signing on to a Pawlenty for President campaign. In my conversations with the governor, he has not yet made that commitment."
The PAC's communications team is filled out with ex-staffers from the Republican National Committee, including a couple with experience in presidential politics in 2008.
Pawlenty is in the final 15 months of his second term. He denies having made a decision about entering a presidential campaign three years out.
Byron Shafer, a University of Wisconsin political science professor, said both Pawlenty and the advisers are sending a message.
"He wants inside observers to know he's serious," Shafer said. As for the advisers, "they're willing to say he could be the one and they're comfortable with him" as a potential GOP nominee, he said.
Presidential scholar Charles Wolcott said Pawlenty is making a pre-emptive strike by scooping up top talent before other prospective candidates do. That, combined with other recent activity, suggests an almost certain run for president, said Wolcott, who teaches at Virginia Tech.
"His actions are those of someone who is going to run for president. There's no doubt," Wolcott said. "His traveling lately, his speeches and his bringing aboard high-powered operatives. All of this is exactly what happens when someone is preparing for a serious bid."
The formation of the PAC coincides with the beginning of a new fundraising quarter. Pawlenty hopes to make a splash at the outset with an early November fundraiser in Minneapolis that seeks a $5,000 donation per person.
Among possible 2012 rivals, Romney has raised the most money so far, with the former Massachusetts governor pulling in $1.6 million during the first six months of the year. Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, collected $733,000 in that period. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, had $304,000 in contributions.
They can use the money to pay for travel and give it away to Republicans on next year's ballot. The PACs are separate from the accounts each would need for an actual campaign.