Pawlenty staffs PAC with Bush veterans

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) will rely on veterans of President George W. Bush's campaigns for his own political advice as he considers a bid for the White House, his new political action committee (PAC) announced Thursday.

In launching the Freedom First PAC, Pawlenty is making his most overt moves to date toward a potential bid. The PAC filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Thursday, with its first event scheduled for Nov. 4 in Minneapolis.

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Republican moneyman William Strong, a vice chairman of Morgan Stanley, and ex-Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), will be co-chairmen of Pawlenty's PAC, giving him entree into the power corridors of GOP finance officials.

That first event will showcase Pawlenty's ties to many of Minnesota's biggest Republican donors. The guest list includes the former CEO of Target, the president of Marvin Windows and Jeff Larson, a partner at the top Republican telemarketing firm FLS Connect.

And the Minnesota governor will get advice from top Republican strategists, including Phil Musser, Terry Nelson and Sara Taylor. Musser, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association, has been organizing behind the scenes for Pawlenty for months.

Nelson was Bush's political director during the president's 2004 reelection campaign. In 2008, he ran Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) campaign until a shakeup in July cost dozens of McCain staffers their jobs. Taylor was Bush's White House political director from 2005 to 2007. Both Nelson and Taylor are Iowa natives.

Alex Conant, a former press secretary at the RNC who has been traveling with Pawlenty, will be the PAC's spokesman. And Michael Toner, a former chairman of the FEC and a well-known Republican election lawyer in Washington, will be Pawlenty's counsel.

Meanwhile, Pawlenty has also hired a top Internet campaign team, including Patrick Ruffini, Mindy Finn, Liz Mair and Patrick Hynes, according to his PAC. The team launched a new website Thursday in the first step toward building a cutting-edge e-campaign.

In picking his advisers, Pawlenty has robbed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) of several key aides. Musser and Finn advised Romney during the 2008 campaign, and Weber was one of Romney's top surrogates in Washington.