Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) won’t wait for the 2012 Republican presidential field to take shape before officially entering the race — possibly early next year.

“I’m going to make a decision about my future both professionally and personally and politically in early 2011, some time after the first of the year,” Pawlenty said Monday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “It won’t be dependent upon what other people do or don’t do.”

Pawlenty said he expected at least one potential rival for the presidential nod — Sarah Palin — to delay her entry into the field.

“Given her status, she could afford to wait, I think, a lot longer than most other candidates because she has a built-in level of familiarity with voters [and] support,” he said. 

Pawlenty called the Tea Party a “political insurgency” but suggested it would be good for the GOP.

“The Tea Party movement, more broadly, I think is a positive force for the conservative movement,” he said. “They bring new energy, new talent, new people, they hold the old guard accountable, they rattle the cage a little bit. They’re telling people, ‘Shape up or we’ll come after ya,’ in a political sense. That brings a renewed sense of accountability, it brings a renewed sense of energy.”

He said “establishment types” were unsettled by the Tea Party movement because they don’t look at the group in an historical context. 

“At one time Ronald Reagan led the insurgency,” Pawlenty said. “I don’t get overly worried about this raw energy that you see emerging at the grassroots level. I think it’s helpful, I think it’s healthy, I think it’s good. I think it shakes things up.”

He said there were “a few individuals” within the group “that say and do things that aren’t wise,” but added “that’s true of any group.”

Pawlenty has been traveling extensively in early presidential primary states where he’s been raising money for local parties, state and federal candidates. Pawlenty’s PAC, Freedom First, pulled in $723,501 during the second quarter and has donated some $84,000 to Republican candidates. The PAC has more than $939,000 cash on hand.

The next few years will see the GOP evolve from being a party built around “middle age, white guy CEOs,” Pawlenty said.

He cited New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez (R), who could become the first Latina governor in America, and South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley (R), who is Indian American, as members of the next generation of the party. 

“It’s going to be a new day, a new era in terms of base and voice and tone of the Republican Party, and I think that’s really good,” he said.