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Pawlenty Quietly Begins Hill Outreach

When it comes to greasing the wheels and opening doors on Capitol Hill, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has tapped Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) to lead his outreach to Members ahead of his prospective 2012 White House campaign.

“I have been, frankly, encouraging him to run for president,” said Kline, who counts Pawlenty as a constituent and is the governor’s first Congressional endorsement, should he run. “Like everyone else, he has not announced that he’s doing that.”

With the unofficial kickoff of the next presidential cycle some eight months away, Pawlenty’s outreach to Republicans on Capitol Hill so far has been organized but minimal. But compared to some of the other potential candidates, including presumed GOP frontrunner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Pawlenty could also have the furthest to travel when it comes to ingratiating himself with Members of Congress.

Just before the spring recess, Kline set up a casual introductory breakfast meeting for Pawlenty with fewer than a dozen GOP Members. During the informal conversation, Pawlenty and his team discussed the upcoming May 18 special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th district, among many other topics.

In an online forum on March 29, Pawlenty endorsed seven candidates for Congress across the country through his political action committee — including businessman Tim Burns, the GOP nominee in the Pennsylvania special.

Pawlenty’s PAC also cut a $10,000 check to the National Republican Senatorial Committee last quarter and met with NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) and more than eight GOP Senators on a recent visit to Washington, D.C.

“It’s important for Tim to meet people, not only for a possible run in 2012, but the reason for the PAC is to help Republicans in these races,” Kline said. “It’s importantly for Tim and his team to look around the country and see where the PAC might be helpful.”

Sources also said freshman Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) has been lending a hand to Pawlenty’s informal efforts, especially with introductions to some of the younger Members. The other Republican in the Minnesota delegation, Rep. Michele Bachmann, also attended the breakfast meeting, although she said in a phone interview that she is not throwing her support to any candidate just yet.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), another often-mentioned 2012 presidential contender, headlined a rally for Bachmann’s re-election bid last week in Minnesota. Pawlenty was listed as an “honorary host” along with Kline and Paulsen.

“I am in not any camp at all,” Bachmann said when asked if she was picking sides at this early stage of the 2012 contest. “I’m more than happy as a Member of the Minnesota delegation to smooth any pathways that I can for our governor. But I’m not working actively on his presidential campaign or on any presidential campaign.”

While Pawlenty’s recent breakfast with Members was one of his initial forays into reaching out to Capitol Hill, the governor spends much more time on the road speaking at official GOP events in states such as Missouri, Nevada, Texas and Florida. Pawlenty senior adviser Phil Musser said most of his trips to Washington have been on official state business or through his role as vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

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