"...today, I'm announcing the formation of an exploratory committee to run for President of the United States."
As the Associated Press story on our homepage explains, an exploratory committee offers Pawlenty greater flexibility in ramping up to full-blown campaign mode:
The exploratory committee would clear the way for Pawlenty to raise money and hire campaign staff while requiring him to file formal paperwork with the Federal Election Commission...
A top Pawlenty adviser, Phil Musser, urged supporters during the call to wait until April to make campaign donations so the money shows up in the fundraising report for the April-to-June period and not the one for the first three months of this year, when Pawlenty was on a book tour and not aggressively raising cash. The campaign would be based in Minnesota...
Early fundraising numbers are one of the earliest tests of a candidate's viability.
Pawlenty joins businessman and radio host Herman Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as the only GOP hopefuls to have announced the formation of exploratory committees -- generally regarded as a clear indication a candidate is planning to run. Some of the other now-familiar rumored candidates have so far opted to keep their powder dry:
Romney advisers say not to expect his announcement this month. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says he will wait until his state legislature completes its work in April.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's term as the United States' ambassador to China ends at the end of April and his supporters are planning a May announcement. Others, such as former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, are calling activists in the early nominating states but have not yet made a public declaration.
The first GOP 2012 primary debate is slated for May 2nd at the Reagan Presidential Library.