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Pawlenty's PAC team includes former Bush, McCain advisers

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Gov.Timothy Pawlenty
In this photo from July 30, 2009, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks at a luncheon during the Republican National Committee summer meeting in San Diego, Calif.
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Thursday that an experienced group of political advisers will help manage his federal political action committee. 

Pawlenty filed the official paperwork for what he calls the Freedom First PAC today. Some analysts say the creation of the PAC and the team of advisers indicates that Pawlenty will run for president in 2012. 

The federal PAC will allow Gov. Pawlenty to raise and contribute money to Republican candidates across the country. It will also help him raise his own profile among Republican activists who are looking for a candidate to challenge President Obama in 2012. 

In a recorded video message on his website, Pawlenty urged supporters to help his cause.

"Freedom is what we're looking for; what we believe in and what we're willing to fight for," Pawlenty said. "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. I'm asking for your support and I want to hear your voice."

Pawlenty's decision to start a federal political action committee isn't a surprise, since an invitation for a November fundraiser in Minneapolis has already surfaced. Neither is the timing -- October 1 is the start of the fundraising quarter. What are new are the names of the consultants who have signed on to help him. 

Terry Nelson was the political director of George W. Bush's 2004 campaign and worked for John McCain's campaign last year, and Sara Taylor served as White House political director under Bush. Pawlenty's team also includes former Federal Election Commission Chair Michael Toner and former Republican Governors Association executive director Phil Musser. 

"Tim Pawlenty has chosen to recycle not only the same failed policies and priorities of George W. Bush, but also the same advisers."

The PAC's co-chairs are William Strong, vice chair of Morgan Stanley and former Minnesota Congressman and now lobbyist Vin Weber. 

"I think that they have assembled a real A-Team, you can decide for yourself if I belong on that list or not," Weber said.

Weber, who was an adviser to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign last year, said Pawlenty's decision to start the political action committee is the next logical step if the two-term governor decides to run for the White House. 

But Weber said he's not prepared to endorse Pawlenty for president. He said Pawlenty is a talented politician, but he needs to prove that he can build a national network of supporters and show that he can raise money. 

"If Gov. Pawlenty wants to run for president, he has to put together a national organization," Weber said. "He has great political talents and abilities. He's very smart and knows policy inside and out, but he's never done that before so this in some ways [this] is going to be a test to that."

Jennifer Duffy with the Cook Political Report agrees that Pawlenty has assembled an experienced group of advisers, but she said he hasn't announced that he hired an experienced fundraiser. Duffy said Pawlenty's PAC and his team of advisers are a clear indication that he's running for president.

"I can't imagine that some of the players on Pawlenty's team would jump on if it weren't laying the groundwork for 2012," she said. "It doesn't mean that Pawlenty will pull the trigger and run, but he's doing what needs to be done if he does want to run."

Pawlenty, who is not running for a third term as governor, has not ruled out a potential run for the White House. 

Officials with the Democratic National Committee called Pawlenty's Freedom First PAC "back to the future." The DNC's Hari Sevugan said Pawlenty's future looks a lot like former President George W. Bush's past.

"I know folks had hoped that he could be a fresh face for the Republican Party, but rather than bringing in leaders with new ideas, Tim Pawlenty has chosen to recycle not only the same failed policies and priorities of George W. Bush, but also the same advisers," Sevugan said.

Along with the Minneapolis fundraiser scheduled for November that features a wide array of the state's business leaders as sponsors, Pawlenty has also reportedly scheduled a fundraiser for his PAC later this month in Washington D.C.