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Florida fundraiser, new account point to Pawlenty run for governor

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Former Governor Tim Pawlenty
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, President and CEO of Financial Services Roundtable, speaks during a discussion at the Reagan Building October 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. The discussion, sponsored by Bloomberg Government, focus on the costs and benefits of cyber security.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI | AFP | Getty Images

Updated 4:45 p.m. | Posted 2:45 p.m.

Republican Tim Pawlenty is fundraising toward a now-likely campaign for Minnesota governor.

A fundraising invitation obtained Monday by MPR News contains a "Pawlenty for Governor" committee disclaimer. It advertises a Naples, Fla., fundraiser next week that seeks up to the maximum donation of $4,000 per person.

Pawlenty was known to travel to Naples for past fundraising swings when he was previously governor for two terms and during an abbreviated run for president in 2012. The area is known as a winter retreat for many well-off Minnesotans.

Pawlenty has yet to announce a formal campaign for the office, which won't have an incumbent on November's ballot. But all signs point to a campaign, including his decision to leave a high-paid Washington D.C. job lobbying for financial services companies.

He's also fundraising in Minnesota. He has 14 days to create a campaign committee with the state campaign finance board after he raises or spends $750.

Pawlenty adviser Brian McClung said Monday the former governor has been encouraged to seek the job again but had not decided.

"Whatever his decision may be, he believes strongly a campaign for governor should focus on how best to achieve greater prosperity for all Minnesotans and make our state's future brighter for the next generation. He will make a formal decision at the appropriate time," McClung said in a statement to MPR News.

Minnesota Democrats are aiming to make Pawlenty's homecoming as unwelcome as possible. DFL Party Chair Ken Martin seized at a chance to jab the former governor

  "A $500-per-plate fundraiser in Florida? Not exactly the best way to kick off your campaign to be governor of Minnesota. But after years making millions on Wall Street, I guess he couldn't be bothered to first announce his candidacy to people he hopes elect him," Martin said in a statement.

The race for governor promises to be highly competitive. Incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton is retiring. Three Democrats are in the race currently, as is Republican Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Johnson dismissed the notion that Pawlenty, a former two-term Minnesota governor, would be the instant frontrunner for the GOP, calling himself "the strongest candidate."

Former Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey, Naval Officer Phillip Parrish and Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens are also seeking the party's backing at its June convention. The nomination will be officially decided, however, in an August primary.