By Bob von Sternberg

Continuing his rounds on the national political talk circuit, Gov. Tim Pawlenty this morning gingerly stepped into an upstate New York congressional race that has been splitting the Republican Party.

The special election in the state's 23rd Congressional District has become a flashpoint for the GOP, with national figures lining up behind the endorsed Republican candidate and the Conservative Party's standard-bearer. No less a party heavyweight than former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has endorsed Doug Hoffman, the conservative, while more moderate voices in the party, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have backed the GOP's Dede Scozzafava.

Appearing today on the daily webcast streamed by ABC News, Pawlenty was asked about hte race. He replied that he will "probably" make an endorsement in the race, but didn't sound like he's exactly enthusiastic about his party's nominee.

 He elaborated: "As a conservative, I'm concerned about some of the alleged issue positions that she holds. I want to be fair to both candidates and look at their records. But there are some things that I've beentold that, you know, she holds dear, that may not be consistent with conservative principles."

Beyond burnishing his conservative bona fides, Pawlenty said he's been "working my can off" on behalf of the Republican Governors Association, of which he is vice chair. He also chided congressional Democrats for "thrashing around" on health care and ripped President Obama's Afghanistan policy review: "He seems to be indecisive and that's troubling."

Meanwhile, the Pawlenty-for-president speculation got a new boost today, when the Washington Post's political blog, The Fix, named him the second-most influential Republican in the country.

"It's clear Pawlenty is the current "it" boy in Republican politics," the blog reads. "Pawlenty, to his credit, seems to understand that he started behind people like Romney, Huckabee and former Palin in terms of name identification among party activists and has seemingly been everywhere over the past few months trying to rectify that problem. The danger, of course, in Tpaw's full court press is that it is still a long ways to 2012 and it's tough to be the new, hot thing for three years."



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