Pawlenty sets up state PACs in Iowa and New Hampshire

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) established political action committees (PACs) on Wednesday in the key primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire to aid candidates for state office.

The PACs are just the latest sign that the Minnesota Republican is building up the kind of political infrastructure needed to wage a bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

Pawlenty registered state versions of his Freedom First PAC to help candidates in this fall's elections, believed to be a first-of-its-kind move by a potential presidential candidate in Iowa.

"These state PACs will allow Tim Pawlenty and his supporters to better help local candidates in the critical 2010 elections," said Alex Conant, a spokesman for the governor. "Both states trended toward the Democrats in recent years, but hold great opportunities for conservative candidates this fall."

Establishing PACs is often an important tool in building political alliances and forging relationships that can lead to valuable endorsements during a primary process. Pawlenty's move could help build some grassroots support among state lawmakers in Iowa, which hosts the nation's first nominating contest in 2012, and New Hampshire, which traditionally holds the second contest.

Newspapers in both states pointed out that Pawlenty isn' the only one playing in the nominating states, though. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), another potential 2012 candidate who ran for president in 2008, has written a check to support former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's (R) bid to retake the governorship, the Des Moines Register noted. The Manchester, N.H., Union Leader reports that Romney also registered his Free and Strong America PAC in New Hampshire last year.

But for observers looking to read the tea leaves for signs that Pawlenty is running, Conant maintained that a decision is still well down the line.

"As for what happens after the midterm elections, the governor's said he'll decide what to do next in early 2011," he said. 

Democrats wasted no time on Wednesday ridiculing the move

"It's nice that Tim Pawlenty has found a way to help politicians from other states who can help his political ambitions. Too bad he couldn't do the same for the families of Minnesota who he was elected to serve with his draconian budget cuts," said Democratic National Committee national press secretary Hari Sevugan. "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."

Updated at 11:25 a.m.