On March 21, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the first top-tier Republican to announce the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, the first formal step toward a 2012 run. The announcement, made in a two-minute Web video posted on Facebook, came as little surprise to political observers; in recent months, Pawlenty has made multiple visits to key primary states, released a series of splashy Web videos, and, perhaps most importantly, begun assembling a talented team of political professionals.
Several recent additions signal an emphasis on the Iowa caucuses, where Pawlenty hopes to draw on his appeal as the former governor of a neighboring state. Eric Woolson, owner of an Iowa public relations firm, has reportedly signed on to help guide Pawlenty’s bid in the state. He brings a strong track record of success in the caucuses, having served as Iowa communications director for George W. Bush in 2000 and managed Mike Huckabee’s winning Iowa campaign in 2008.
Three other Iowa hands—Terry Nelson, Phil Musser, and Sara Taylor—have all reportedly signed on as senior advisors to Pawlenty. Nelson, an Iowa native and former director of political operations at the RNC, was political director for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign; Musser, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association, was a senior advisor to Mitt Romney in 2008; and Taylor, another Iowa native, was political director in the George W. Bush White House. Tim Hagle, a political scientist at the University of Iowa who was Southeast Iowa chairman for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, is impressed by the composition of Pawlenty’s Iowa team. “They know who to contact in the right counties, who the activists are, and who to have as your county chair and precinct activists,” he says.
Pawlenty has been building toward a presidential run for over a year. In December 2009, his Freedom First PAC added veteran Republican fundraiser Brian Haley, who was a key money-man for John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, as its finance director. Mindy Finn, a partner with the media firm Engage, joined up in 2009 as well to lead Pawlenty’s online strategy. Pawlenty has already put in place a savvy new media strategy, including the release of a number of highly produced Web videos promoting his PAC