By Jeremy Herb and Baird Helgeson

Taking his first official step toward a run for the White House, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Monday he’s forming a presidential exploratory committee.

Through a succinctly produced video released via Facebook, Pawlenty declared behind inspirational music he was “announcing the formation of an exploratory committee to run for president of the United States.”

An exploratory committee is the first step before candidates officially declare a run for the White House.

Pawlenty’s video laid out the narrative he hopes to craft in the campaign, that he’s a working-class politician who has lived through hard times in South St. Paul.

“At a young age, I saw up close the face challenge, the face of hardship, and the face of job loss,” Pawlenty says. “Over the last year, I’ve traveled to nearly every state in the country, and I know many Americans are feeling that way today. I know that feeling. I lived it.”

On Pawlenty’s website, which is no longer hosting his Freedom First Political Action Committee, a banner says “Join Tim Pawlenty for his first live event as a candidate,” a tele-town hall later today.

Pawlenty’s use of Facebook is a nod to the important role that social media plays in politics today. His video contrasts the first major Republican to “test the waters,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose fumbled rollout and press conference about exploring a 2012 White House run was criticized.

While many candidates form exploratory committees to create will-they-or-won’t-they-buzz, Pawlenty is not going to hide his intentions, a source said.

Pawlenty is in, the source said.

“There’s may be a formal announcement down the road, in as little as a few weeks or so, but Tim is going to be more clear about his intentions,” the source said.

By forming an exploratory committee, which will be based in Minneapolis, Pawlenty can start raising money for his national bid, though he now has to abide by federal campaign contribution limits.

The 2012 presidential field has been slow to form this year, but Pawlenty's announcement is likely to spark several rivals to act soon. The first 2012 presidential debate is scheduled for May 2 at the Ronald Reagan Library in California, and a debate in South Carolina is planned three days later.

For more than a year, Pawlenty has trekked across the country, spending plenty of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation Caucus and primary states. He formed state political committees in both states to give money to state-level Republicans, and has started hiring staff there.

Pawlenty begins the 2012 race for the GOP nomination consistently polling in single digits, as he has struggled to gain name recognition matched-up against national figures like Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin.

Eric Roper and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.

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