Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty edged closer to a return to Minnesota politics and a run for a third term for governor Monday, officially creating a campaign committee with the state elections board — and a website.

A statement from Pawlenty emphasized that he continues to explore a run for governor but said his actions Monday did not comprise an official announcement of his candidacy.

“As I continue to explore a campaign for governor, I filed a campaign committee today to meet the requirements of Minnesota law,” he said in a prepared statement. Still, the website bearing a prominent “Pawlenty 2018” logo was the most overt sign yet that the former governor is close to relaunching his political career.

Minnesota law requires anyone raising campaign contributions to create a committee and file notice with the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board within 14 days. Pawlenty and his allies have recently been raising money and planning fundraisers, including one in Naples, Fla., scheduled for Thursday.

Pawlenty, the last Republican to win a statewide election when he was re-elected narrowly in 2006, left his job as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable last week. The trade association represents the interests of the nation’s largest banks in Washington and paid Pawlenty $2.7 million in 2016, according to IRS documents.

Pawlenty focused on the economy in his brief statement: “I’m optimistic about Minnesota’s future and understand how to deliver more accountable government and better jobs. As a two-term governor, I know what it takes to lead our state in the right direction at this pivotal moment in American history,” he said.

Other Republicans running include 2014 GOP nominee Jeff Johnson, who is a Hennepin County commissioner; Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens; former GOP Chairman Keith Downey; and Naval reservist Phillip Parrish. But Pawlenty’s increasingly likely presence in the race has overshadowed those potential rivals. In recent weeks, DFL-aligned political groups like the Alliance for a Better Minnesota have trained criticism on Pawlenty while all but ignoring his potential rivals.

“With a past like Tim Pawlenty’s, he’s the last person that Minnesotans need leading us into the future. He did enough damage to our families and our state the first time he was governor,” said Joe Davis, the executive director of the Alliance. Said DFL Chairman Ken Martin: “Tim Pawlenty is not the kind of leader Minnesota needs right now ... the last thing we need right now is a return to the disastrous policies of Tim Pawlenty.”

His potential Republican opponents were dismissive.

“Everyone knows [Pawlenty] has been running for months now, so I don’t get too distracted by his weekly political maneuvers,” Johnson said in a statement. “I’ll just keep campaigning around Minnesota and working hard to earn people’s votes.”

Downey said he hoped that “the media, the establishment, and the other candidates will now quit obsessing on the political calculations around his entry into the race, and finally focus on who is the best candidate with the strongest record and message for Minnesota.”

Giuliani Stephens said Minnesotans want something new: “The former governor’s candidacy is no secret, and while I appreciate his past service, Minnesotans have moved on and are looking for a different style of governor who will bring new solutions and bold leadership to the challenges facing our state,” she said.

Giuliani Stephens was referring to the convention endorsement process. Some GOP insiders have suggested that Pawlenty, given his strong name recognition and national fundraising network, could skip the Republican state convention in Duluth the weekend of June 1 and take his appeal straight to a much larger group of Republican voters in the August primary election.

When Pawlenty first ran for governor in 2002, he managed to secure the Republican endorsement against expectations, boosting his prospects and setting him on a path to victory that year.

Said Giuliani Stephens: “After an eight-year absence, I hope the former governor will not turn his back on the Republican endorsement and circumvent the very process that got him to where he is today.”