[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/24/art.pawlenty.gi.jpg caption="Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has 19 months left in his second term."](CNN) - Tim Pawlenty announced Tuesday that he will not seek a third term as governor, a decision that gives the Minnesota Republican room to start plotting a possible White House bid in 2012.
"I'm not ruling anything in or out," he said, when asked if he plans to seek the presidency.
Pawlenty, ticking through some poll numbers that show his approval rating hovering above 50 percent in a Democratic-leaning state, boasted that he "absolutely could have won, and would have won, a third term." But he said being governor "should not be a permanent position for anyone."
"When it comes to how long someone should stay in an elected position, a little less is better than too much," he said.
At a nearly hour-long press conference at the state capital in St. Paul, Pawlenty said he came to his decision in the last few days, but that he had given it much thought over the last six months.
Although he told reporters he is unsure of his future plans, two conservative activists in the Washington area who are close with Pawlenty and his team say the governor is actively thinking about the 2012 election.