(Reuters) - Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty announced on Monday he is setting up an exploratory committee, a formal step toward launching a campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Pawlenty, 50, could emerge as one of his party's strongest candidates, given his proven ability to attract swing voters as a two-term Republican governor of a Democratic-leaning state.
Here are some facts about the man who may seek to become Democratic President Barack Obama's Republican challenger next year.
* Among his political credentials are success at eliminating a $4.3 billion budget deficit in Minnesota without raising taxes and his opposition to abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.
* The son of a truck driver who grew up near stockyards and a meat-packing plant, Pawlenty entered the Minnesota governor's office by stressing his modest roots in an appeal to the economic interests of working-class voters. Pawlenty was elected governor after his predecessor, former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, decided not to seek re-election.
* He was 16 when his mother died of cancer and his father lost his job. Pawlenty went on to work his way through college and law school at the University of Minnesota.
* Pawlenty came to the defense of Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker recently with a one-minute video that endorsed Walker's efforts to restrict the rights of unions representing public-sector employees.
* Analysts say Pawlenty could win the Republican nomination as a relative outsider offering a degree of electability seen as lacking in others such as Sarah Palin and an air of sincerity that could eclipse more established national figures such as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Critics say Pawlenty possesses little charisma and his soft-spoken approach could make it hard for him to go toe-to-toe with Obama.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Will Dunham)