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Pawlenty Quietly Begins Hill Outreach

“We’ve had the chance to meet many more Senators and Congressmen in their states,” Musser said.

Pawlenty’s aides said he has campaigned for and given money to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is running for an open Senate seat this year, has done local events in Minnesota, and recently cut PAC checks for former Rep. Pat Toomey’s (R) Pennsylvania Senate bid, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven’s (R) Senate bid and Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) re-election campaign.

Collecting chits from Members is an important part of the process in laying the groundwork for a presidential run.

Romney was fairly successful in his effort to build a base of Congressional endorsements in his 2008 bid despite competing with a Member, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Romney has also maintained relationships on Capitol Hill by hosting a major event for the NRSC, endorsing candidates for Congress in 2010 and writing checks from his PAC to GOP Members. But even Pawlenty’s supporters agree that Romney has a smaller hill to climb given all of the legwork he did last cycle on Capitol Hill.

“Romney, less so than the other folks, already has a network in place,” said one Romney supporter with ties to Capitol Hill. “Beginning in 2005 and 2006, and then in 2007 and 2008, he’s done this game.”

Nonetheless, it’s clear that Romney and Pawlenty have different approaches when it comes to seeking the support of Members. Romney’s team was renowned for its organized effort in securing dozens of endorsements from Capitol Hill after he announced his campaign.

“I don’t think they’re viewing this like the Romney guys with a ... list,” said one Pawlenty supporter. “The system is being set up to hit the ground running if he ever decides to pull the trigger.”

It appears, however, that Romney and Pawlenty are the only potential candidates having casual conversations with Members. Other often-mentioned GOP candidates, including Palin, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, are not engaged in formal or informal outreach efforts to Capitol Hill.

The only often-mentioned potential candidate on Capitol Hill, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), has repeatedly told reporters that he is focused on winning re-election in November — although the March 30 filing deadline passed without him drawing an opponent. Thune is also not laying any formal groundwork with his colleagues, although he presumably would have the least work to do because of his career in the House and Senate.

In addition to Musser, several other seasoned senior advisers ingrained in Washington are working with Pawlenty’s PAC. Former Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant, a Gopher State native, is serving as the PAC’s communications director, and veteran lobbyist Sam Geduldig is an informal adviser, serving as Pawlenty’s chief liaison to Capitol Hill and K Street.

Former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), who supported Romney early in the 2008 cycle, is serving as co-chairman of Pawlenty’s PAC.

“He’s begun the process really with the leadership of John Kline, and it’s a very informal, soft-sell approach to meet people who may not know him,” Weber said. “He’s not making an attempt to organize support or anything like that, but just to introduce himself to people.”

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