Fresh off his New Hampshire drop-in, Gov. Tim Pawlenty is generating more chatter than ever about his potential presidential plans.

Mark McKinnon, a political consultant best-known for his work on behalf of George W. Bush and John McCain, has just rated the prospects of the GOP's presidential field more than a year out from the opening gun of the 2012 campaign. He rates Pawlenty third, behind former Govs. Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin.

McKinnon's take on Pawlenty:




Of all the prospective candidates, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been the most forward-leaning and aggressive. At times, he seems to have gone too far—clumsily kissing the right’s rings, just as Romney did four years ago (Pawlenty jumped out early supporting Joe Wilson after he called Obama a “liar”). But he’s raised his profile and is now viewed as one of the most likely presidential aspirants, which was hardly the case last January. As far as boosting his name ID is concerned, he’s doing everything right.

As the country shifts focus toward budget and deficit issues next year (Obama will strategically try and shift course in this direction in his State of the Union address), Pawlenty is well-positioned to run on the economy and fiscal-discipline issues. In fact, the Democrats in his state are suing him for cutting last year’s budget to balance it (what a gift!).

He’s a conservative whose tone, personality and history help him draw support from centrists. He could end up everyone’s second choice (assuming Romney and Palin both run) and that’s a heck of a place to be in a crowed and wild primary.

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But, governor, it's cold outside!