Even after he announced an exploratory committee and made his run for president all but official last week, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's main problem remains the same: People don't know who he is.

Gallup reports today:

Despite the flurry of publicity that surrounded Pawlenty's announcement last week, his recognition among Republicans has essentially not changed, at 40% today, compared with 39% in January.

The two largest changes over time in Republicans' familiarity with the list of potential candidates are Daniels' increase from 26% recognition in January to 33% today, and Rick Santorum's from 40% in January to 46% today.

Here's Gallup's accompanying name-recognition chart:

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Forty percent isn't terrible, and what really matters now is how many people know about him in Iowa and New Hampshire. But of all the prospective 2012 Republican presidential candidates, Pawlenty probably suffers from the widest disparity between how well he's recognized nationwide and how seriously pundits and political aficionados take him as a candidate.

He's not viewed as a top-tier guy--in other words, he's not Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney--but he occupies prominent space in the next level as a former governor who comes off as a low-key, competent-manager type.

Why the disparity? For the past year and a half, Pawlenty has been doing the kind of things that get noticed by people who follow presidential races closely three years before they happen, but which go largely ignored by everyone else. He's been traveling to key primary states and raising money (both at a respectable, competitive pace) since the fall of 2009, when he formed his political group, the Freedom First PAC. He's spoken at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC each year since the 2008 election.

And yet, in name recognition, he trails Michele Bachmann, Haley Barbour, and Rick Santorum. He's now running more seriously than any of them. We'll see if his numbers surge ahead as the more-or-less official Pawlenty campaign rolls on.

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