Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said Saturday that he hopes former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) runs for president in 2012.

Portman, speaking at a Cincinnati-area pancake breakfast where Pawlenty was the guest, stopped short of endorsing the likely presidential candidate, but encouraged Pawlenty to run.

"You know, I am not endorsing anyone, but I am happy to introduce any candidate who comes here to people like you," Portman said, according to Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Howard Wilkinson. "But I hope Tim Pawlenty will run because he has a great record and a great message."

Portman may be new to the Senate, but his opinion carries some weight in Republican circles. He's a former U.S. Trade Representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the Bush administration, and before that, served in the House. 

The import of Portman's statement are aided by his status as a Republican representing a state, Ohio, that's a key bellwether in presidential elections.

His opinion seems to contrast, though, with many of his new GOP colleagues in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said earlier this week that in 2012, an he hopes Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) will run, an opinion echoed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Pawlenty's been traveling to promote his new book, "Courage to Stand," a schedule that's included stops in Iowa and New Hampshire -- stomping ground for likely presidential candidates. The former Minnesota governor is looking to build his profile in anticipation of a presidential bid, and praise from Portman could help him do so.