Last week was significant in the governor’s race, as we got real clarity on the makeup of the field and the relative strengths of the candidates.
Attorney General Lori Swanson’s decision to run for re-election instead means the field on the DFL side is set. It also makes the stakes for the party endorsement at the June state convention much higher, now that a well known challenger like Swanson won’t be waiting in the wings for a primary.
The campaign finance reports released Thursday also provided an early indication of where things stand. If money is a sign of support, it was a bad day for the three major Republican candidates for governor. Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens can take solace that $70,000 was a respectable figure given how late in the year she got in the race.
But U.S. Rep. Tim Walz’s $1.1 million figure dwarfed all the GOP candidates combined. Even the fourth biggest fundraiser on the DFL side, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, raised nearly as much as the Republicans’ top recipient, Jeff Johnson.
Enter ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. In a fortuitous coincidence — if you believe in coincidence — Minnesota Public Radio reported on the same day as those bad GOP campaign finance results were released that Pawlenty would meet with donors and political types soon to assess a run for governor.
Pawlenty is still the last Republican to win a statewide race in Minnesota — in 2006 — and no one questions his ability to raise money after two terms as governor, a presidential run and years as a Wall Street lobbyist.
A GOP source said the plan is to gauge support and secure commitments from these donors to raise money quickly. Something on the order of $1 million would certainly convey seriousness. Doing so would make it very clear to the other Republican candidates what they’re up against and maybe persuade them to get out of the race.
Further pressure could be applied by the other candidates’ donors, who would make clear the spigot is being turned off, so candidates should consider bowing out.
All of this would leave a clear shot for Pawlenty.
But none of the other candidates seems ready to give a hero’s welcome to Pawlenty, and why would they? They’ve been working for months to secure support from delegates and raise money in every far-flung corner of the state.
The result could be a fight at the convention and then a tough primary.
This week, it all begins: precinct caucuses.