[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/24/art.pawlenty.cpac.gi.jpg caption="Tim Pawlenty will not attend the Southern Republican Leadership Conference."](CNN) - Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will miss a major Republican gathering next month of possible 2012 GOP presidential contenders and instead will attend a welcome home ceremony for troops returning from Iraq, a Pawlenty spokesman tells CNN.
The two-term Minnesota governor, who is considering a bid for his party's presidential nomination in the next election, was scheduled to attend the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal - all considered possible 2012 White House hopefuls - are attending the conference.
Instead of going to New Orleans, Pawlenty will appear at the April 10 welcome home ceremony for the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Red Bull Infantry Division. The approximate 1,200 troops are finishing a long deployment to Iraq. Pawlenty was also at the unit's sendoff.
"Obviously, the return of these great Americans is more important than politics," says Alex Conant, a Pawlenty spokesman. "We were looking forward to SRLC, but the Governor can't be in two places at once."
The day before the troops' ceremony, Pawlenty will team up with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at a political event in Minnesota. Romney, another possible 2012 GOP presidential hopeful, will also not be attending SRLC.
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