Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has signed GOP operative Nick Ayers to serve as his campaign manager, scoring one of the best-regarded young strategists in the party to lead his 2012 presidential effort.

“I’ve chosen to work for the man whose record, principles and vision will give us the strongest Republican nominee, who has the greatest chance of victory in November 2012,” Ayers said in an email to The Fix. “[Pawlenty] is someone who knows what he believes and doesn’t need polls to know how to say it, and he has lived honorably in both his public and private life.”

Ayers, who served as executive director of the Republican Governors Association during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, was courted by at least four other potential presidential candidates. He is currently helping to lead the transition effort at the Republican National Committee under chairman Reince Priebus.

Pawlenty, who worked with Ayers as vice chair of the RGA during the 2010 cycle, called him “one of the best political talents in America,” adding: “His leadership and record of winning tough races in every part of our country will provide even more momentum to our campaign to get America back on track.”  

Ayers, who at 28 is among the youngest campaign managers in modern presidential history, will move to Minneapolis and begin in his new role on April 25.

Ayers’ hiring indicates that there is now no doubt that Pawlenty will be in the race for the Republican nomination next year. He formed an exploratory committee to begin raising money for a candidacy late last month.

Pawlenty and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour have been by far the most active in the race for staff talent. (It’s worth noting that Ayers worked under Barbour, who chaired the RGA, during the 2010 election.)

Pawlenty is moving aggressivelyon the staffing front in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Ayers rounds out a team of national strategists that includes former White House political director Sara Taylor, former John McCain presidential campaign manager Terry Nelson, former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, former RGA executive director Phil Musser and former Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant. (For a full look at Pawlenty’s inner circle — done before Ayers’ hire — click here.)

Ayers was one of The Fix’s top six free-agent operatives heading into the 2012 contest.

Palin praises Trump’s birtherism: Donald Trump is getting a lot of press for his effort to get to the bottom of President Obama’s birth certificate, and now it seems former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is ready to aid his effort.

Palin, appearing on Fox News this weekend, said that she “appreciates” what Trump is doing, and that “there is something there that the president doesn’t want people to see on that birth certificate.”

Palin’s remarks are interesting, because in the past she has suggested the the birther issue is a distraction from the real issues. Now, for some reason, she appears to think Trump’s quest is worthwhile.

Case jumps into Hawaii Senate race: Former Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) will make another run for Senate in 2012 after jumping into the race for retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka’s (D) seat Sunday.

Case becomes the first major candidate in the race, but he’s unlikely to have a clear primary path. Other potential Democratic candidates include former Hono­lulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa.

Case lost a 2006 primary challenge to Akaka, and he also lost a special election for a House seat last year.

Potential GOP candidates include former Gov. Linda Lingle and former Rep. Charles Djou, who held his seat for less than a year before losing to Hanabusa in November.

Louisiana redistricting may have to wait: Five of seven congressmen from Louisiana have signed a letter asking the state legislature to delay debate on a redistricting plan, after last week’s efforts yielded plenty of drama but little progress.

The members proposed waiting at least a year to draw new congressional districts, which would still allow them to be drawn before the 2012 election.

It’s worth noting that such a delay would also mean the legislature could look substantially different, because the state holds state House and Senate races in 2011. Republicans currently have a small majority in the state Senate, thanks to recent party switches, but the state Senate president is still a Democrat.

All five of the letter’s signatories were Republicans. Reps. Cedric Richmond (D) and Charles Boustany (R) were the only members not to sign the letter. Boustany’s efforts last week to get his district to his liking rubbed other members of the delegation the wrong way.

Details on Barbour’s N.H. trip: Barbour will visit with the Greater Manchester Federation of Republican Women during his trip to New Hampshire on Friday, according to an advance look at his schedule.

Barbour’s trip is newsworthy because many think, as a southern governor, he might have difficulty catching on in the Granite State.

He will also visit a gun shop Friday morning and do a reception at a private residence on Thursday evening.

Lazio for Senate?: An eagled-eyed Tweep notes that the Google description for former Rep. Rick Lazio’s website calls him “Republican candidate for the US Senate from New York.”

Lazio, who lost to Hillary Clinton in her first Senate campaign in 2000 and lost a primary for governor last year, would be running against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), who is not considered a top GOP target.

Gillibrand raised a very strong $3 million in the first quarter of this year.

Messages left with Lazio’s office weren’t returned Sunday evening.

Politics and Pints is tonight!: Make sure to stop by the Capitol Lounge at 7 p.m. for the latest installment in The Fix’s monthly trivia night, Politics and Pints.

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White House senior adviser David Plouffe says Trump has no chance of becoming president.

Olympic Gold Medalist Carl Lewis is set to make an announcement about his “political plans” this afternoon in New Jersey. He is expected to run as a Democrat for the state Senate.

Massachusetts is celebrating the fifth anniversary of former governor Mitt Romney’s (R) health care law.


An imbalanced budget deal?” — Nate Silver, New York Times

As Obama’s 2012 campaign takes shape, Chicago reclaiming role as reelection nerve center” — AP

Obama to lay out plan this week to cut deficit” — Zachary A. Goldfarb, Philip Rucker and Paul Kane, Washington Post

Drafting a presidential candidate is tougher than it sounds” — Nia-Malika Henderson, Washington Post

Momentum fails O’Malley as some key goals falter” — John Wagner and Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post