NEW YORK - Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty won't seek a third term, GOP officials said Tuesday ahead of an expected announcement that will fuel speculation of a 2012 presidential run by the Republican.
The officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity as the governor's afternoon news conference was pending, said Pawlenty won't rule anything in or out about his political future.
A conservative with blue-collar roots, Pawlenty, 48, has been considered a likely White House candidate for months and people close to him say they expect him to seek the Republican presidential nomination. Pawlenty has left open the possibility of a White House bid; people close to him say he had been trying to decide between running for a third term or seeking the presidency.
That said, two officials caution that no presidential announcement is imminent.
Pawlenty's announcement comes as he's in the middle of a prolonged dispute over one of the state's U.S. Senate seats months after the race between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. The governor hasn't issued an election certificate because Coleman, the incumbent, is still contesting the results that tipped the race to Franken by a few hundred votes.
Pawlenty's success as a right-leaning Republican elected twice in left-leaning Minnesota marked him in national GOP circles as a young politician to watch. He gave his political profile a boost in 2008 when he endorsed John McCain early on, then campaigned for the nominee around the country and in many national media interviews.
That work earned him a spot last summer among the top prospects to be McCain's running mate. Pawlenty was seen as one of two or three finalists right until the moment McCain upended the campaign by choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
If he seeks the presidency, Pawlenty could face a GOP field crowded with former and current governors. Among the potential candidates are Palin, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Pawlenty began calling political allies early Tuesday to disclose his plans. One individual who talked to the governor said he cited personal and political considerations, including his battles with a Democratic-controlled legislature. Pawlenty also has two daughters ages 16 and 12, and declining to run for another term would free him to seek more lucrative work than the $120,000-a-year governor's salary.
Pawlenty has taken a conservative's stance on taxes, most recently holding firm against attempts by legislative Democrats to increase some taxes to fill in a massive state budget deficit. Failing to reach a compromise with Democrats, Pawlenty instead invoked executive powers that allow him to trim state spending without legislative input.
Pawlenty strayed from his tax orthodoxy just once, when in 2005 he proposed and helped pass a 75-cent-a-pack "health impact fee" on cigarettes that critics said was just a creatively named tax.
The governor has followed traditionally conservative stances on most social issues, favoring freer access to guns and opposing abortion and legal partnership rights for gay couples. But he's broken from party orthodoxy on a few issues, speaking out in favor of importing prescription drugs from Canada and promoting pro-environmental business initiatives.
The lawyer and native of South St. Paul started in politics on the local level, serving on the Eagan City Council before his election to the state House where he went on to serve as majority leader. Pawlenty was little-known statewide when he first ran for governor in 2002, but managed to win against a veteran Democratic legislator and a prominent former congressman running for a third party.
Sidoti reported from Washington. Associated Press Writers Brian Bakst and Patrick Condon in St. Paul, Minn., contributed to this report.
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