By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
Minnesota U.S. Rep. John Kline said Friday he is running for another term and will not run for governor or U.S. Senate.
"I have been careful to say that I have been keeping options on the table for the Senate race and the governor's race," Kline said. "I am not running for Senate. I am not running for governor. I am running for re-election and that's where my efforts have been and it's important that I am able to focus on that re-election."
Kline, a Republican first elected to Congress in 2002, has grown in influence in the U.S. House and now chairs the Education and the Workforce Committee. He also serves on the Armed Services Committee.
With Kline out of the running, Republicans have yet to find challengers for DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Democrat U.S. Sen. Al Franken. Both won the slimmest of victories in their last elections.
Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District spans the southern metro area and includes all of Scott and Dakota Counties as well as some southeastern Minnesota counties.
National Democrats are targeting Kline, one of just a handful of House Republicans who won in a district President Obama captured in 2012.
Already two Democratic candidates -- CaringBridge founder Sona Mehring and Kline's 2012 opponent Mike Obermueller -- have announced they plan to challenge Kline next year.
Kline acknowledged that if he ran for Senate and won, he would be a 67-year-old freshman whereas in the House he has built up some influence and seniority, which added to his consideration. He said he did not discuss his decision with Speaker John Boehner.
He also said he needed to focus on his own re-election fight and take his name out of the running for a statewide race so that others can step up their bids. He said that some candidates had "deferred" announcing runs because his name was in the mix.
"If you are going to run a successful race against Al Franken, you've got to raise a lot of money and they've got to get started," said Kline. "It is time for them to start to get serious and raise money."
He said it was always "unlikely" that he was going to run for either Senate or governor.
"I think it's very important that my party win those races," Kline said.
Earlier this year, former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman said he would not run for governor, which he had considered, nor would he consider a rematch against Franken.
U.S. Reps. Erik Paulsen and Michele Bachmann have left statewide runs on the table and many Republicans have said they are considering similar runs. A Paulsen spokesman said Friday that nothing had changed on that front.
Among them: state Rep. Kurt Zellers, who was having breakfast with former Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the same St. Paul eatery where Kline told reporters he would seek re-election.
Zellers, the former Minnesota House Speaker, said he has not closed the door on a possible statewide run.
Pawlenty said he would expect a flurry of candidate announcements in the next 90 days. He said he has met with several potential candidates.
"I think you will see the pace of the activity pick up significantly," Pawlenty said.
Whomever runs will face the challenge of not only unseating an incumbent but also grappling with a Minnesota Republican Party that is, as Kline said, "in a shambles."
"It is troubling," Kline said. He said he has confidence in the party's new leadership team but "it is a pretty steep hill for them to climb....We are very hopeful that now that we put the leadership in place, now we can start to move forward."
The party, which just elected a new chairman this month, has $1.7 million in debt and has to pay off $30,000 to $35,000 a month just to keep current in its payments. Republicans also lost a U.S. House seat as well as control of the state House and Senate in 2012. Democrat U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also trounced her GOP opponent by 35 percentage points in last year.
Kline said that he would "probably not" make a pick among whomever decides to challenge Dayton and Franken before his party endorses. The Republicans who step up to challenge them may face a primary.
"We don't know where we will be, what the state of the party will be," Kline said. "We are in a different circumstance than we have been in the past. We haven't had all this disarray."
Staff writer Baird Helgeson contributed to this report.