MOORHEAD - Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty isn't the first notable Minnesotan to seek the presidency, but he's definitely in limited company.

Other Minnesotans have tried - and failed - at becoming the nation's commander in chief.

Two - former vice presidents Walter Mondale and Hubert H. Humphrey - got as close as they could to the presidency without attaining the Oval Office. Both also ran as Democratic presidential candidates.

But Pawlenty believes he can go farther than his Minnesota predecessors.

The 50-year-old South St. Paul native formally announced his candidacy Monday for the 2012 race - which is due to have a slew of competitors vying for the GOP nomination.

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One of those is expected to be another Minnesotan, tea party favorite Michelle Bachmann, who represents the state's Sixth Congressional District, which includes St. Cloud.

While Pawlenty's obstacles to the presidency are many, political analysts say he also brings advantages other candidates, like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, can't offer.

Pawlenty's candidacy is "a very big deal" for Minnesota and the upper Midwest, said Lawrence Jacobs, a well-known politics professor at the University of Minnesota and the director of the university's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

"He's a former governor who obviously knows about agriculture and the challenges of rural America," Jacobs said.

And unlike his coastal competitors, "he doesn't think of the Midwest as the flyover region," Jacobs added.

Presidential candidates - especially successful ones - typically come from the nation's population centers: the East or West coasts or the South.

The Great Plains and Midwest, home to some of the lowest-density populations in the country, traditionally don't produce presidential prowess, Jacobs said.

"This would be unusual," Jacobs said, adding that a Bachmann bid would "just add to the distinctiveness of 2012. There may be two presidential candidates from Minnesota."

Clay County Republicans Chairman David Hallman said Pawlenty, as president, would be an additional asset to the Midwest because "he understands our problems, our needs."

"He has shown that talk is one thing, but putting things in motion is entirely different," Hallman said. "It's those Midwestern values that could be an advantage to him."

But Pawlenty, who's still widely unknown outside his home state, faces the challenge of jumpstarting his presidential campaign as others begin theirs.

So far, Romney appears to be Pawlenty's strongest competition for the GOP nomination.

Jacobs said the two keys for Pawlenty to succeed include winning his party's nomination and raising enough money to wage an aggressive campaign.

"Pawlenty's off to a reasonable start," Jacobs said.

Whoever wins the GOP nomination will face off against Democratic President Barack Obama, who's seeking a second term.

As part of Pawlenty's political strategy though, it's "revealing" that he chose to make Monday's announcement not in his home state, but in Minnesota's neighbor to the south, Jacobs said.

The political powerhouse of Iowa will be key for any candidate seeking the Republican nomination. The state's primary caucus kicks off the 2012 election season next winter.

"I don't think Pawlenty necessarily needs to win (in Iowa), but he needs to have a strong presence," Jacobs said. "Political reality trumps home-state loyalty - and let's face it: Minnesota is not going to determine the outcome of this election."

However, Hallman - a longtime Pawlenty supporter - said he believes Pawlenty's now-limited popularity will take off across the nation in the months ahead.

"It's always about being able to instill the spirit in the people, and he's done that in Minnesota," Hallman said. "That spirit has to catch on for somebody, and I'm hoping it's him."

Who is Tim Pawlenty?

Party: Republican

Birthdate: Nov. 27, 1960 (Age: 50)

Hometown: South St. Paul, Minn.

Current home: Eagan, Minn.

Family: Wife, Mary; daughters, Anna, 18, and Mara, 14.

Education: Bachelor's degree in political science and law degree from University of Minnesota.

Political experience: Minnesota governor, 2003-10; state representative, 1993-2002, four years as Republican House leader; Eagan City Council, 1989-92.

Business background: Lawyer

Where he stands

  • On government spending: Calls for less spending and favors reforms to entitlement spending. Wants to freeze federal salaries and downsize the federal workforce as more people retire. Opposes raising the debt limit and raising taxes.
  • On business and the economy: Promotes job growth and a free market without subsidies. Opposes government bailouts and unions.
  • On energy: Wants to phase out federal subsidies for ethanol. Supports renewable energy sources.
  • On national security: Favors strong, "forward leaning" approach to foreign affairs. Has criticized President Barack Obama for not being "aggressive" enough on international disputes, such as the situation in Libya.
  • On health care: Opposes 2010 health care reform law. Favors market-driven, patient-centered care.
  • On abortion: Anti-abortion
  • On gay marriage: Supports the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541