Three months after an appearance in Concord, Gov. Tim Pawlenty is once again back in New Hampshire Thursday, addressing Republican activists, this time in Manchester.
The interest Minnesota's governor is showing in places like New Hampshire strongly suggests Pawlenty is looking at run for the White House in 2012, and some granite state Republicans say he could do well there.
Pawlenty has not said whether he's making a bid for the White House, but he's certainly acting like a presidential candidate. Already this year he has delivered political speeches to GOP groups in six states along with a pair of appearances in Washington D.C.
Regardless of where he's speaking, Pawlenty's comments follow an increasingly familiar script.
Pawlenty almost always talks about what he says is unsustainable government spending and growth. He often boasts that he reduced spending in Minnesota, and usually talks about his blue collar, South St. Paul roots.
The last time Pawlenty was in New Hampshire, Republicans in Concord warmly applauded him. The short speech before party insiders got Pawlenty on New Hampshire's most popular TV newscast.
The chair of the Manchester Republican Committee Cliff Hurst first saw Pawlenty during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008. Hurst was also in Concord for Pawlenty's speech last December. During that trip, Pawlenty also sought out Hurst, which led to this evening's invitation.
"He stopped by the house to visit and we were having a conversation, and I said, you know, we're going to be having our Lincoln-Reagan dinner in March and we're thinking about possible people and we wanted to know if you might think about it," Hurst said.
Hurst said he likes Pawlenty's message and Pawlenty's working-class background.
"I just thought he was a very effective communicator when I heard him there and when I heard him out here," he said. "He seemed to be a person that I could really identify with, and I thought he would identify well with the people in Manchester."
Asked whether there is buzz about Pawlenty in New Hampshire, Hurst said their will be. Despite Pawlenty's national speaking tour, he barely registers in presidential preference polls among GOP activists.
Pawlenty is not widely known in New Hampshire even though he campaigned for Republican John McCain there in 2008. At a popular Manchester Diner called the Red Arrow, Republican Karen Quiet said she'd never heard of Pawlenty.
"Nothing, nothing, nothing," she said.
A couple of booths over fellow Republican Michael Noll knew Pawlenty's name but not much else.
"He's an outsider. He's a younger guy. I can't tell you a whole lot about him though," Noll said.
Noll said being a new face might be a good thing in Republican presidential politics right now. "I think the known Republicans are not going to be elected. I think the McCain loss in 2008 was kind of the defeat of the establishment Republican Party," he said.
Long time New Hampshire GOP insider Tom Rath was a senior advisor to Mitt Romney during the 2008 campaign, and he remains a Romney supporter. Still, he has only positive things to say about Pawlenty even though Pawlenty and Romney could end up battling each other for the GOP nomination.
As for Pawlenty's relatively low profile, Rath said it's irrelevant--at least for now.
"You can get famous in this country overnight. Look at American Idol or Sarah Palin," Rath said.
Rath said there's plenty of time for Pawlenty to work the general public and that he's doing the right thing now by concentrating on party insiders.
"The work that Gov. Pawlenty [is] doing, as I understand it, is work that he should be doing, but it's not designed to move polls," Rath said. "It's designed to put organizations in place. It's designed to attract people to take him seriously. Anybody who takes a lot of solace in where the polls have them or don't have them right now is making a big mistake."
Pawlenty's next big political trip will be to another key presidential state. He's scheduled to speak at a tax rally in Iowa in mid-April.