TALLAHASSEE — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2012, urged Florida lawmakers on Wednesday to approve a bill to make it easier to fire public school teachers.
"I would have given a lot to have a bill like that on my desk," Pawlenty said, recalling a similar bill vetoed last year by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
Pawlenty, 50, said he could decide within six weeks about a presidential run. He delivered a stump-style speech to about 50 people, including about 20 GOP lawmakers, who gathered at the historic Capitol building.
In a matchup of potential candidates, Pawlenty was in a statistical tie Wednesday with two other former governors, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Sarah Palin of Alaska, according to a Public Policy Poll.
After his speech, Pawlenty refused to say when the state should hold its presidential primary. Scheduled for January, Pawlenty joked he would see many Minnesotans in Florida then. But it's too early for national Republican leaders, who want it pushed back to March.
"I don't purport to give other states advice on how they run their elections or their primaries. That's up to them," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty met with Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday, but would not say whether they talked about 2012. Pawlenty will visit with Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi today before attending a Business Council conference in Fort Lauderdale.
"I have a high respect for him," Pawlenty said of Scott. "He's going to be one of the nation's best governors. He already is a rising star in the party."
The two campaigned together during Scott's race last year and held a joint fundraiser in Naples.
Pawlenty's political committee, Freedom First, has raised $3.4 million, much of which has been spent. Pawlenty donated to more than 80 Republican candidates for Congress last year, including Florida U.S. Reps. Sandy Adams, David Rivera and Allen West.
Pawlenty collected about $95,000 in Florida, including donations from Joe Fogg of Naples, a top fundraiser for former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani; Hoe Brown of Tampa, a GOP fundraiser and Mitt Romney supporter in 2008; and Christopher Ruddy of West Palm Beach, the CEO of Newsmax.com
Pawlenty was guided around the Capitol by Phil Musser, a senior adviser with ties to former Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. Musser also worked on Romney's 2008 presidential campaign.
Michael C. Bender can be reached at email@example.com.