In a slick campaign-style video released Monday afternoon, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty announced he is forming a presidential exploratory committee ahead of a likely run for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
The video, which was released on Facebook, opens with Pawlenty discussing how he saw job loss as a child in Minnesota. In a voiceover, Pawlenty goes on to repetedly call for a more limited federal role, at one point saying the time had come to "take back our government."
"We need to encourage...the brave men and women throughout this country's history who have asked for nothing more than the freedom to work hard and get ahead without government getting in the way," he says.
Pawlenty's campaign says it is filing the exploratory committee today, though the Federal Election Committee told CBS News it has not yet received the filing. Registering an exploratory committee allows Pawlenty to hire staff and raise money more aggressively; it also means he will have to follow the legal limits on contributions to presidential candidates and disclose his fundraising information. His campaign is asking donors to hold off until the new fundraising quarter, which begins April 1, to donate in order to avoid reports of weak first quarter fundraising.
Pawlenty is the third candidate - and the first seen as a legitimate contender for the nomination - to announce an exploratory committee, following talk show host and businessman Herman Cain and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.
He has been working feverishly behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for a candidacy, making allies in early-voting states, hiring staff and courting key activists. He has struggled to get his name better known to a wider audience, however, which may be one reason he is announcing an exploratory committee ahead of his potential rivals.
The 50-year-old Republican has cast himself as a strong candidate in part by pointing to his success in relatively-liberal Minnesota (where he will base his campaign). He has also tried to position himself as a consensus candidate, someone around whom both fiscal and social conservatives can rally. That's a message echoed in the video, which appears designed to appeal both to Tea Party activists and traditional Republican voters.
On a conference call with supporters Monday morning, Pawlenty said America is "in trouble" and "needs new leadership."
"With all due respect for President Obama, I think he's taken this country in the wrong direction," he said, criticizing the president for an "expansive, overreaching, burdensome view of the role of government in people's lives."
He also expressed concerns over America playing a secondary role in world affairs, pointing to the military action in Libya.
"When we have [French] President [Nicolas] Sarkozy dictating the pace and terms and conditions for security initiatives in the world, we know that we've entered a new era in terms of America's place and leadership and vision for security around the world, and that concerns me greatly," Pawlenty said.
Other likely Republican candidates in the wide-open race for the 2012 GOP nomination include Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour and Rick Santorum.