Later this month, Gov. Tim Pawlenty will travel to Little Rock to speak to the Arkansas Republican Party. It's the latest effort by the governor to increase his profile and promote his vision for the Republican party.
Some observers say Pawlenty's travel over the next few months is designed to gauge whether he can mount a viable presidential campaign in 2012. A key component of a viable campaign would be an increase in his fundraising efforts outside of Minnesota.
When Pawlenty announced that he wasn't running for a third term, he said he had no idea about his future political plans, but he said he would travel the country to discuss the future of the Republican Party.
"I don't have any plans beyond serving out my term, Pawlenty said in early June. "I'm not ruling anything in or out. I just don't have any plans. My focus is serving out the term."
Since that announcement, Pawlenty has spoken at several engagements in Washington D.C. and hit the cable TV circuit. He has appeared at least five times on national shows.
If Pawlenty hopes to build the Republican Party nationally and raise his own profile, he has some work to do. The governor criss-crossed the country in 2008 to campaign for Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential run. He also spoke to several conservative groups. But the governor has not built a fundraising network beyond Minnesota's borders.
“[Pawlenty] has recognition now and the potential to put a base like that together.”Vin Weber
An analysis of his campaign finance reports between 2001 and 2008 show that he raised most of his money in Minnesota. 20,000 of the 22,000 donations he received during that time period came from Minnesotans. In second place are Florida residents, but they only gave to Pawlenty 167 times. Pawlenty also didn't fare too well from the politically important states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He received a total of 10 donations from those three states during that time period.
Republican consultant Vin Weber, a lobbyist and former congressman who advised several Republican presidential candidates, said Pawlenty faces a steep challenge.
"It's a very expensive proposition to run for president these days, particularly so if you come from a smaller state like Minnesota," Weber said.
Weber said he isn't certain if Pawlenty will make a run for the White House in 2012. But if he does, Weber said he'll need to create an effective organization soon.
Weber said a typical first step for candidates is to create a leadership political action committee (PAC) to help other candidates or a non-profit think tank to tout ideas. Weber said Pawlenty has the potential to be a strong candidate.
“A lot of people outside of Minnesota have never heard of Tim Pawlenty.”Alex Conant
"He has recognition now and the potential to put a base like that together, Weber said. "When I talk to people around the country, they all know who he is. They're all very interested. But he hasn't actually had to do it yet. He hasn't had to fund anything like a political action committee or a think tank or anything like that."
Several GOP sources say Pawlenty is starting to put together a team of informal advisers to help raise his profile. Alex Conant, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee, is one of those informal advisers. He said he expects the governor to put himself in front of Republicans as best he can.
"A lot of people outside of Minnesota have never heard of Tim Pawlenty, and so that's a real opportunity for the governor to go out and introduce himself to people, Conant said. "He's got the time to do that now because he's not running for re-election. He's going to take advantage of opportunities to go on cable and travel around the country and talk about his vision for the party and the country."
In August, Pawlenty is scheduled to talk to GOPAC, a group that could help him build a national network. They help elect Republicans to state and local offices. Those officials could help Pawlenty meet even more Republicans in the coming months.
For his part, Pawlenty makes no secret that he's interested in working with people who want to burnish the Republican party's image nationally.
"There's a variety of groups nationally and here that focus on policy and I'm interested in trying to create new ideas and new policies for the Republican party," Pawlenty said. "So I'm going to help a whole variety of groups through that through speaking and writing and the like."
While Republicans are pondering Pawlenty's next step in politics, at least one Democrat said it won't be to the White House. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak on Fox Business earlier this month:
"He's going to get his butt kicked by Barack Obama ..."
Pawlenty later said Rybak was doing a little trash talking and didn't comment beyond that.