ABC News Michael Falcone and Amy Walter report:
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty plans to make his presidential intentions official on Monday by announcing the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, a source close to Pawlenty told ABC News.
Pawlenty will make the announcement on his Facebook page at 3 p.m. ET on Monday.
“This exploratory committee will be the next step in the process, not the full announcement but assuming the exploratory committee goes well that will come soon enough," Pawlenty said on a conference call with friends and family Monday morning, adding that the move would put a "structure" and "organization in place to take these initial steps to run for President of the United States.”
The Republican former governor has been traveling the country in recent months, focusing on early nominating states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and fine-tuning his message in front of potential GOP presidential primary voters.
While not an official declaration of his candidacy, the exploratory committee will allow Pawlenty to begin testing the waters for a Republican presidential bid. He will will file papers with the Federal Election Commission on Monday to put the committee in place, according to a Pawlenty aide.
Pawlenty will become the first major candidate to launch an exploratory committee. Two others — Georgia businessman Herman Cain and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer — have also taken that step and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced last month he was entering an "explore phase" of a potential presidential campaign.
By announcing his intentions in late March, Pawlenty is jumping out ahead of much of the rest of the potential GOP field. Pawlenty faces a steeper climb than other potential rivals, like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as he introduces himself to voters. In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, for example, 58 percent of Republican leaning voters had yet to form an opinion of Pawlenty compared to 19 percent for Romney and just 5 percent for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
The poll also found that 28 percent of GOP voters viewed Pawlenty favorably, while 15 percent did not. In most surveys Pawlenty polls in the low single digits when stakced up against other potential GOP presidential nominees, but that may actually be an advantage.
Front-runner status comes with it's own set of challenges. Romney, for example, has been facing increasing scrutiny over the similarities between the health care bill he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts and the national reform law backed by the Obama administration.
Another question Pawlenty faces is whether can he raise enough money to fund a successful campaign, especially when he will potentially be competing against candidates with the resources to pour large sums of personal money into their campaigns like Romney and Ambassador Jon Huntsman.
Sources close to Pawlenty have said that these last couple of months were about taking the pulse of donors — if the money wasn't there, he wasn't going to run. His record as governor of Minnesota could posse another obstacle. Opponents will likely pounce on the fact that he left the state with a more than $6 billion deficit.
And finally, there's the charisma factor — some critics say Pawlenty doesn't have much of it. But in a series of recent appearances he's been using a high-energy, high-urgency tone and his political action committee has also released a series of dramatic videos highlighting his travels around the country. His decision to use his Facebook page to make the announcement is another sign his campaign will employ new media techniques to spread its message.
"With all due respect for President Obama, I think he's taken this country in the wrong direction," Pawlenty said on Monday morning's call, audio of which was posted by Politico. "This is the greatest nation this world has ever known and it's in trouble and it needs a new direction and it ned new leadership."
ABC News' Amy Bingham contributed reporting to this post.