WASHINGTON – Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, announced Tuesday he was making a 2012 run for the White House, though his campaign later downplayed the move.

"I'm running for president," Pawlenty told CNN in an interview to air later Tuesday.

"I'm not putting my hat in the ring rhetorically or ultimately for vice president. I'm focused on running for president."

But despite the straight-forward proclamation, his campaign quickly sought to debunk suggestions Pawlenty was making it official. An aide later told CNN his boss had not made an official announcement, saying it would come later in the spring.

A formal announcement would trigger a set of government reporting requirements for the campaign.

Last month, Pawlenty became the first Republican to announce an exploratory committee, generally a must-do step that allows potential candidates to gauge the potential for raising the vast sums of money required.

Largely unknown outside his home state, the 50-year-old Pawlenty lives in Minnesota with his wife Mary and two teenage daughters.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney entered the race on Monday by announcing he was launching an exploratory committee in an economy-focused message.

He charged that the policies of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, "have failed" to revive the battered US economy.

Romney ran in 2008, but fell short amid doubts from core conservatives that he truly shared their values, and questions fueled by his moderate governing style in deeply liberal Massachusetts.

Other Republicans have shown interest in a White House bid, including firebrand Representative Michele Bachmann, a leader in the archconservative "Tea Party" movement that helped power the party to big gains in the November 2010 elections.

Possible contenders also include former House speaker Newt Gingrich; former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, the current US ambassador to China; Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour; and businessman Donald Trump.

Republican officials worry that the crowded field of possible White House hopefuls could end up helping Obama, who is certain to get his party's 2012 nod but could be vulnerable as the US economy sputters its way out of its worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.