Likely GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty on Friday beefed up his staff in the key early caucus state of Iowa, where he is looking to make a play to kick-start his campaign.

Iowa House Majority Whip Erik Helland (R) will lead the former Minnesota governor's team. He will be assisted by Annie Kelly, a veteran of Pawlenty's political action committee who signed on as state deputy director; and Tracie Gibler, who will serve as state political director.

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"We've assembled an Iowa team with an exceptional balance of depth and experience combined with energy and passion," Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant said in a statement. "This team knows Iowa and knows how to build successful coalitions. With their help, we will unite Republicans behind Governor Pawlenty's conservative record of success."

Pawlenty, who is trailing in the polls to other top GOP contenders, is looking to parlay his record as a governor of a bordering Midwestern state to appeal to Iowa Republican voters and make a strong showing in the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus. 

Pawlenty has made numerous visits to the Hawkeye State since expressing interest in running for president and is heading back next week for a two-day swing, when he'll meet with political activists and speak to potential voters.

He was also early in hiring staff there: In March, he nabbed veteran operative Eric Woolson as a senior adviser for Iowa. Woolson in 2008 worked as an aide to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), who pulled off a stunning victory in the GOP caucuses. 

Helland worked on eventual GOP nominee John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West Five takeaways from the Biden-Putin summit MORE's fourth-place Iowa campaign and Kelly also worked on the Arizona senator's presidential campaign. Gibler served as an aide on former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid.

Pawlenty's team suffered a setback this month, when Iowa aide Benjamin Foster resigned after being arrested on charges of public intoxication and trespassing. 

Since forming his exploratory committee about one month ago, Pawlenty's team has worked on fundraising and networking in other early states. He assembled a volunteer steering committee for his New Hampshire campaign last week.

Pawlenty's exploratory committee on Friday also announced the hiring of 10 field representatives in Iowa.