Although Pawlenty's national name recognition "probably doesn't exceed" 5 percent," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune said recent conversations among national GOP leaders include him alongside former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and other first tier potential candidates for the Republican nomination.
"Of the guys in the top 12 for '08, (Pawlenty's) right up there," said conservative leader Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
But Pawlenty's top aides say there is "absolutely no proactive planning, no scheduling, no fundraising, no saving of news clips, nobody assigned to even think about 2008."
The first-term governor is not without some detractors, who point to his efforts to allow prescription drugs into the United States from Canada. That, say some observers, is a practice the Bush administration opposes and might become an issue that could hurt Pawlenty during the 2008 GOP primaries.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]