Minutes after Republican Tom Emmer's concession Wednesday, state GOP chairman Tony Sutton made it clear that all was not lost.

"His message of smaller, sensible government will be what guides the Legislature and is the political reality that the incoming governor will have to recognize," Sutton said in a statement.

Where Emmer goes from here is unclear, but his recount battle may have given him a stage to help renewed GOP efforts to change state election laws.

Surrounded by family and friends, Emmer told reporters "I'm not going to predict where I'm going to go from here ... we'll see what the rest of life has to offer."

To run for governor, Emmer gave up the chance to keep his seat in the House of Representatives and virtually shut down a declining law practice in Delano.

He sidestepped a question about job possibilities on Wednesday, saying, "Every day is a possibility in my world."

But he indicated he might play a role in his party's campaign to convince Minnesotans that state elections are seriously flawed.

"I will devote my time to bring public awareness to these issues and the need for election reform, including -- but not necessarily limited to -- requiring a photo ID," he said.

On the campaign trail

From the start, the race for governor was a rocky road for Tom Emmer.

Brash and assertive, he fired up party activists last spring and they awarded him the Republican endorsement over a more accomplished rival.

Within weeks, Emmer drew fire for proposing a cut in wages for restaurant workers who receive tips, then fanned the controversy by defending the idea.

A liberal group allied with DFLer Mark Dayton repeatedly reminded TV viewers of Emmer's drunken driving arrests decades ago. Prominent Republicans publicly questioned his abilities and some backed Independence Party candidate Tom Horner.

Despite it all, Emmer pressed ahead with his argument for less government spending and appeared energized and confident in the final days on the campaign trail, reflecting polls showing the race tightening.

What the future holds

Could Emmer rebound into public life, running for his House seat again?

"I don't know if he wants to run for office again or if he wants to be involved in promoting issues," Sutton said, adding that he was not privy to Emmer's plans.

But Sutton endorsed the idea of having Emmer play a role in party efforts next year to pass legislation requiring people to show photo identification at polls and to otherwise change election laws.

"I think he will be emphasizing that," Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier said of Emmer. "The GOP legal strategies of the last several weeks have been focused less upon getting him elected governor ... than setting up an agenda for election reform that can be pursued by the Republican Legislature."

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210