Tim Pawlenty’s Facebook site asks people to drop by at 3 ET for “a special message exclusive to Facebook supporters.”  CNN reports that the former Minnesota governor will announce his first official step into the 2012 presidential race and become the third Republican to launch an exploratory committee:

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is expected to announce Monday the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, several sources tell CNN. Such a committee allows candidates to start raising money and is seen as the first concrete step towards a run for a party nomination.

The formation by Pawlenty has long been expected as he has been traveling to key early-voting states recruiting advisers and beginning to lay out his vision for the country.

A source close to Pawlenty and a senior Republican source briefed on the decision to form the committee confirmed the announcement will be Monday afternoon.

This is a mere formality, of course.  Unlike with Newt Gingrich, whose history of playing a tango on presidential aspirations still makes his ultimate intent somewhat debatable, Pawlenty has aimed at this moment since 2009, when he formed his PAC.  He has campaigned and raised funds for Congressional candidates around the country, organized efficiently, and spent plenty of time in Iowa and New Hampshire.  No one will be surprised in the least to see him announce an exploratory committee launch.

Basically, though, this changes nothing.  Pawlenty still does not have to disclose contributions to his PAC or his expenditures until he officially launches a presidential campaign committee.  It does give Pawlenty more visibility as a potential candidate, and will attract attention from the media as a player for the 2012 sweepstakes, at least until the next candidate announces an exploratory committee of their own.

So far, this has been a fairly relaxed GOP rollout, or at least more relaxed than in 2008, when candidates rushed to toss their hats into the ring.  The announcements of Herman Cain and Gingrich didn’t speed up the process, but the move by Pawlenty might entice some of the higher-tiered candidates to match him and blunt the media spike he’ll get from it.