Updated 11:47 a.m. Eastern Time
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty plans to announce Monday afternoon that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee, CBS News has learned - the likely precursor to a full-blown run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.
Pawlenty will make the announcement, which an aide to the candidate confirmed to CBS News, on his Facebook page at 3:00 p.m. Eastern today. Only those who have elected to "like" Pawlenty on Facebook will have access to the message.
Pawlenty confirmed his plans on a conference call with supporters Monday morning. He said he will file the paperwork for the exploratory committee today, adding that he expects a full announcement of a presidential run will "come soon enough."
Pawlenty will be the third candidate - and the first seen as a legitimate contender for the nomination - to announce an exploratory committee, following talk show host and businessman Herman Cain and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.
Pawlenty has been working feverishly behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for a candidacy, making allies in early-voting states, hiring staff and courting key activists. He has struggled to get his name better known to a wider audience, however, which may be one reason he is announcing an exploratory committee ahead of his potential rivals.
The 50-year-old conservative Republican has cast himself as a strong candidate in part by pointing to his success in relatively-liberal Minnesota. He has also tried to position himself as a consensus candidate, someone around whom both fiscal and social conservatives can rally.
On the call with supporters Monday morning, Pawlenty said America is "in trouble" and "needs new leadership."
"With all due respect for President Obama, I think he's taken this country in the wrong direction," he said, criticizing the president for an "expansive, overreaching, burdensome view of the role of government in people's lives."
He also expressed concerns over America playing a secondary role in world affairs, pointing to the military action in Libya.
"When we have [French] President [Nicolas] Sarkozy dictating the pace and terms and conditions for security initiatives in the world, we know that we've entered a new era in terms of America's place and leadership and vision for security around the world, and that concerns me greatly," Pawlenty said.
Forming an exploratory committee allows Pawlenty to hire staff and raise money more aggressively; it also means he will have to file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. His campaign is asking donors to hold off until the new fundraising quarter to donate to Pawlenty in order to avoid reports of weak first quarter fundraising. The new quarter begins April 1.
Other likely Republican candidates in the wide-open race for the 2012 GOP nomination include Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour and Rick Santorum.