4:30pm update: O.K., it's happened. Pawlenty made his announcement. He has formed the exploratory committee. I just talked with him. He told me "Iowa is going to be a very important place in our strategy. Of course, we value and respect Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus state. It's also next door to Minnesota. So when you drive from southern Minnesota to Iowa, unless you look at the road signs, you can't tell you changed states. Many of the issues...the economy, the culture, the background are very similar. It's very comfortable there for me."
Sounds like he plans on playing up the neighbor angle, eh? So as Iowa's neighbor and as a little-known candidate nationally, "the expectations game"...fairly or unfairly...will dictate a strong finish, won't it? He told me, "history would show you gotta do reasonably well in Iowa and New Hampshire. Otherwise, you don't get to move on. So, yeah, we expect to do well. I wouldn't put an exact number on it. But we need to do well in Iowa."
History demands a candidate do well. No candidate has gone on to win the presidency without at least placing in the top 3 in the caucuses.
So what does Pawlenty offer the others don't? He said it's his ability to bring together all factions of his party. He said, "I think the thing I bring to the table is I can unite the conservative movement in the party in a way most other candidates can't. If you look at the conservative movement, it consists of economic conservatives, social conservatives, kind of liberatarian or tea party conservatives...national security conservatives. There's candidates who appeal primarily to one of those categories, but I have the ability to compete and get support from all of them. I think I can be the unifying candidate in the race."
Pawlenty plans to add to his Iowa caucus staff later this week and plans a return visit April 1st and 2nd.
Here's my conversation with him today: