Pawlenty sets up fund-raising in Iowa and N.H.

Published 10:05 am Thursday, June 17, 2010

Republican Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has expanded his presence in two states pivotal to presidential politics, setting up fundraising operations in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The state-based political action committees formed during the past week and announced Wednesday will allow Pawlenty to raise and spend money on behalf of Republicans running for state and local offices, part of a goodwill strategy common among likely presidential candidates.

Iowa and New Hampshire, which traditionally open the nominating process, rely heavily on one-on-one politicking where local leaders can play a significant role. State PACs help build visibility and alliances that pay dividends later, said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

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“If somebody gives you a $1,000 contribution to your political campaign that’s a lot of money in a small campaign,” Smith said. “That person is likely to remember that generosity and much more likely to work for you if and when you choose to run for president.”

Pawlenty is leaving office after his second term ends in January. He insists he hasn’t decided whether to try for the White House in 2012, but frequent travel and stepped-up party building point in that direction. Pawlenty has visited both Iowa and New Hampshire twice since ruling out another run for governor. He heads back to New Hampshire in July.

The Iowa and New Hampshire fundraising committees share the name of Pawlenty’s federal Freedom First PAC, which he launched in 2009 to pay for travel, hire consultants and help congressional candidates. But the money raised for the national PAC can’t be passed on to candidates for governor, state legislatures or other local offices.

Pawlenty adviser Alex Conant said the focus is on the 2010 elections, not 2012.

“Both states trended towards the Democrats in recent years, but hold great opportunities for conservative candidates this fall,” Conant said. “As for what happens after the midterm elections, the governor’s said he’ll decide what to do next in early 2011.”

Democrats used the news to criticize Pawlenty as putting national ambitions ahead of his state.

“It looks like if you want Tim Pawlenty to work for you these days, you need to live in Iowa or New Hampshire, not Minnesota,” said Democratic National Committee press secretary Hari Sevugan.

Pawlenty isn’t the only Republican weighing a 2012 run with tailored fundraising operations in the two states. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has had offshoots of his Free and Strong America PAC in both states for more than a year.

In Iowa, Romney’s PAC reported having $50,000 in the bank as of last month. There is no recent New Hampshire filing for Romney’s group.