Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will not seek a third term in office, the Star Tribune reports, after an announcement that Pawlenty will meet the media shortly.  The move will surely stoke speculation about Pawlenty’s national aspirations in 2012:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is expected to announce this afternoon that he will not seek a third term.

Under intense scrutiny about his future political plans, Pawlenty will hold a 2 p.m. press conference to discuss “his future plans.”

Two well-placed Republican sources confirmed that Pawlenty will announce he is not seeking re-election next year.

One source says Pawlenty has informed GOP leadership in the House and was meeting this morning with Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. He planned to inform his staff at noon.

In one sense, this frees Pawlenty from political considerations during the next three months.  The DFL had prepared an extensive “talking points” list to fight his efforts to balance the budget through unallotment after the DFL-controlled legislature bet big and lost that Pawlenty would call a special session.  If Pawlenty has no intention of running for governor again, these arguments will matter little to him.

What are his options?  In 2012, he has two choices to raise his national profile.  He can either run for President against Barack Obama, or he can run against Amy Klobuchar for the other US Senate seat.  If Al Franken gets seated after the court challenges, Minnesotans may want a more conservative representative in the upper chamber than the thus-far non-entity Klobuchar.  Running for President entails a lot of risk, not just because incumbents win re-election more often than not.  (Only Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush failed to win re-election in the last 30 years.)  Pawlenty will have to go through other Republicans to get the nomination, and with the economy likely to be the main issue, Mitt Romney may have the inside edge.

Regardless, Pawlenty will only be 52 years old in 2012 and has plenty of time to pursue higher office.  Minnesotans will lose out on one of the most effective guardians of fiscal policy we have seen in some time.