Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor struggling for name recognition against better-known Republicans eying the presidency in next year's elections, plans to take the first formal step toward the nomination Monday, aides said.
Pawlenty was expected to announce on Facebook at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) that he was forming a presidential exploratory committee, according to advisers. They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity in advance of the formal statement on the social media site.
The exploratory committee would clear the way for Pawlenty to raise money and hire campaign staff. It would require him to file formal paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.
Pawlenty, a 50-year-old conservative Republican who ran a Democratic-leaning state for two terms, has methodically moved toward a national campaign since announcing in 2009 that he wouldn't seek a third term.
He enters a wide open field for the Republican nomination; no less than a dozen Republicans have said they are considering running for the chance to challenge President Barack Obama but there's no clear front-runner so far.
Pawlenty has made overtures to the fiscal conservatives and tea party activists whose top concerns are Washington spending and the national debt, as well as the social conservatives who oppose abortion and gay rights. His efforts to appeal to a broad swath of the Republican Party signal that he's trying to cast himself as a candidate who every party member can back.
His biggest hurdle to his party's nomination may be that he's far less well-known nationally than other Republicans who are expected to run in 2012, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney among them. His limited national profile _ despite being on Republican presidential nominee John McCain's short list for vice president in 2008 _ may make it difficult to raise the millions of dollars needed to wage a credible campaign and build strong campaigns.