WASHINGTON -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose name was mentioned frequently this year for the No. 2 spot on John McCain's ticket, still isn't giving political prognosticators much to work with regarding his role in the Republican Party's future.

Less than a week after he appeared at the National Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida and gave a series of TV interviews saying he had yet to decide about running for a third term or a possible presidential bid, Pawlenty was back for a midweek swing through the nation's capital.

Despite the nationwide attention the governor has garnered since Election Day, he said trips to Washington such as this one -- which included visits with education and military policy groups to which he belongs -- aren't intended to raise his profile.

"These are more like think tank groups, they're more low key," Pawlenty said of his out-of-state business this week. "It's more of a generation of ideas that individual governors or policymakers can take back to their states."

For example, Pawlenty said, the veterans policy group he met with "is just 10 of us in a room. It's open to the press, of course, but nobody ever comes. It really is just roll-up-the-sleeves work of trying to generate good policy ideas."

While Pawlenty minimized his political ambitions, observers say that besides Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was the GOP vice presidential candidate, he gained the most from his involvement in McCain's presidential bid.

During an appearance on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" on Thursday, Pawlenty reprised his "Sam's Club Republican" theme, an appeal for the GOP to expand its base and become more inclusive.

Last week's Miami meeting of Republican governors, which featured Palin as well as Pawlenty, was seen as a prime arena from which the new party leadership would emerge.

In a Rasmussen poll released last week, 64 percent of respondents chose Palin as the GOP's best presidential candidate in 2012.

The next closest were two former governors and unsuccessful candidates in 2008: Mike Huckabee of Arkansas (12 percent) and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts (11 percent).

Three other sitting governors -- Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Charlie Crist of Florida and Pawlenty -- all pulled low single-digit support.

Mitch Anderson • 202-408-2723