Washington (CNN) - His top advisers have already started talks with key political players in South Carolina, and now Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a potential 2012 presidential contender, is planning his first foray into the crucial early primary state.
Pawlenty will travel to Spartanburg on May 7 to attend a reception benefiting the South Carolina Republican Party at the home of state GOP chairwoman Karen Floyd, giving him a chance to meet with party activists and donors who could support him if he decides to seek the White House.
“He is a rising star in the Republican Party and a lot of folks are excited to hear what he has to say," said Joel Sawyer, a spokesman for the party.
The next day, Pawlenty will travel to Rock Hill to host a fundraising breakfast for House candidate Mick Mulvaney, who is challenging longtime Rep. John Spratt in the state’s 5th congressional district.
Mulvaney was a supporter of Mitt Romney, one of Pawlenty’s potential rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, during the 2008 presidential campaign. Romney’s political action committee returned the favor earlier this year, cutting a $2,500 check for Mulvaney’s campaign.
Pawlenty has already spent time in Iowa and New Hampshire this year, but the May fundraising swing marks his first political stop in the Palmetto State, which has determined the GOP presidential nominee in every election going back to 1980.
Other potential candidates have visited the state in recent months to raise money or campaign for 2010 candidates. They include Romney, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
But Pawlenty is going a step further than others in the 2012 field: His advisers recently began reaching out to several of South Carolina’s top political consultants - the same strategists that presidential candidates usually hire to steer their primary campaigns in the state.
According to multiple South Carolina GOP sources, Pawlenty senior adviser Terry Nelson met recently with four of the state’s most influential consultants: Warren Tompkins, Richard Quinn, Walter Whetsell and former state GOP chairman Katon Dawson.
“I think Terry Nelson is an impressive guy,” Dawson said of his meeting with the Pawlenty adviser. “In my opinion, the Pawlenty people are in an exploratory stage.”
Quinn’s meeting, however, did not go quite as well. He told CNN that Nelson arrived late to their meeting in Columbia, in which Quinn told him that Pawlenty is “the least well known of the presidential hopefuls.”
After what Quinn described as a “brief” but “fine” conversation, Nelson told him he had to leave so he could meet across town with Tompkins - who is essentially Quinn’s arch-nemesis in the small but cutthroat world of Palmetto State politics.
“It’s nice to feel special,” Quinn said wryly.