Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is an artful dodger of questions about his political ambitions.

After all, he spent months in 2008 weaving around inquiries about whether he wanted to be Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate (he did but wasn't picked). Then he spent the next three years acting coy about whether he planned to run for president (he ran but quickly dropped out.)

Now the man from Eagan is putting his name back in the speculation game.

Last week, he morphed from a man who wanted people to stop mentioning him as a contender to be Mitt Romney's GOP running mate to one who would be flattered at the thought.

"If asked, anybody, including me, would be honored to serve," Pawlenty said on a conference call Friday.

That answer is quite a bit different from the one he gave two weeks ago. Back then, he said his name did not belong on anyone's list of possible vice-presidential candidates: "I'm going to take my name off the list, so if ... you're a journalist, an observer, remove my name from the list."

He maintained then, as he did Friday, that he could "best serve Mitt in other ways," but his VP reticence appears to have softened.

When asked about the change, Pawlenty demurred. "I added the sentence, 'but obviously if asked anybody would be honored to serve,' and I think that's what got some of the press attention. I didn't mean it as a fundamental shift," the ex-governor said.

But Pawlenty knows, as well as anybody and better than many, that those tiny shifts in verbiage can signal a much larger message.

Four years ago, he slowly moved from brushing off questions about his vice presidential aspirations -- "I'm focused on being governor of the state of Minnesota," he said in February of that year -- to saying, just before he was vetted for the job by the McCain campaign, that he didn't want to talk about it.

"It would be difficult to turn that down," he said in June 2008, adding, "We're not going to get involved in speculation."

Pawlenty, it turned out, was a finalist for the job that ultimately went to then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

If he were truly not interested in being Romney's pick this year, he could say so. He could try William Tecumseh Sherman's line of 1884: "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected," or take a cue from New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who convinced speculators in April that her "no" to the vice presidential question really meant "no."

It might be a little harder to believe a Pawlenty denial, given his history of pretending not to be interested in jobs he really was, but if he worked at it he might have gotten there.

Instead, Pawlenty chose to amp up the speculation.