Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), a potential 2012 presidential candidate, on Wednesday described the resignation of Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee as a loss for education reformers.

Pawlenty is among the first national figures to comment on Rhee's decision to step down in the wake of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's loss in the Democratic primary last month. The outgoing governor blamed the "corrosive" influence of teachers' unions for her downfall.

"Our nation's capital is losing a superwoman in education. Michelle Rhee's resignation is more evidence of the corrosive impact of teachers' unions in American schools," Pawlenty said in a statement. "Despite the teachers' unions' success in defeating Michelle Rhee, her leadership is inspiring to reformers everywhere and will make it harder for the unions to defend the failed status quo."

Pawlenty's statement is another signal he could make education reform a top issue during a possible presidential run. The governor also issued a very similar statement marking Fenty's defeat last month to D.C. City Council Chairman Vincent Gray (D), who is presumed to become mayor of the heavily Democratic city.

Rhee became a national figure during her three years as head of D.C.'s struggling school system for her aggressive push to reform teacher contracts and testing standards. 

President Obama also praised Rhee on the campaign trail in 2008, when he was endorsed by Fenty, and this week hosted children featured in the documentary "Waiting for Superman," which features Rhee. But Obama stayed out of the mayoral primary.

But the Cornell graduate and former Teach for America recruit ran afoul of teachers' unions and city stakeholder groups for her pugnacious style. Observers cited Rhee and Fenty's education agenda as a main reason for Fenty's loss to Gray in September.

Rhee was replaced by interim schools chief Kaya Henderson, who vowed to continue the reforms instituted by her predecessor.