Chris Coleman had already assembled a campaign team with statewide and even national experience, and would have been a serious contender in the DFL fight to replace Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
For months, he traveled Minnesota testing his statewide appeal. For months, he attended events alongside other candidates. For months, he said he was seriously considering a run for governor.
"I'm almost as shocked by this decision as anybody else," Coleman said. He said he made his decision late Thursday morning, just a few hours before announcing it to the media.
Coleman had already assembled a campaign team with statewide and even national experience, and would have been a serious contender in the DFL fight to replace Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is not running for a third term.
But in the end, Coleman decided to stay put.
"My work is here," he said at a mid-afternoon news conference in his small City Hall office. While Coleman had been considered a very likely candidate for governor, he had not officially announced or filed any paperwork for his bid.
He said he had not talked to any of the other candidates running for governor before making his announcement and would back whomever the DFL Party endorses at its April 2010 convention.
Coleman joked that he couldn't bear the thought of hearing his colleagues' two-minute stump speeches for the next seven months. He had already heard them so often, he said, "I could probably do them for you if you want."
While Coleman staffers applauded their boss as he made his announcement to the news media, some longtime staff members shed tears of disappointment when the mayor privately informed them of his decision earlier in the day.
Former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer, whom Coleman considers a mentor, talked to Coleman twice on Thursday about a gubernatorial run. The former mayor said Coleman was concerned about seeing the Central Corridor light rail line, which is at a tenuous point in its development, through to completion.
"I think that really carried the day. I think he's at peace with that," said Latimer, who had encouraged Coleman to make the statewide run.
The state Republican Party divined a different reason for Coleman's decision.
GOP deputy chair Michael Brodkorb said he believed Coleman decided not to run because of a GOP campaign finance complaint alleging he had spent money on a gubernatorial run without registering candidate papers with the state Elections Board.
"It's pretty clear that his hand was dealt today by the Republican Party," Brodkorb said.
Coleman said Thursday the complaint lacked substance and was not a factor in his decision.
Two news releases
The GOP did have the foresight to bring along two news releases to hand to reporters after Coleman's announcement. One was headlined: "Coleman to St. Paul: I'm Outta Here." The other, which the news media received, said "Coleman to St. Paul: You're My Second Choice."
His surprise decision not to run for governor gives Coleman clearer sailing to reelection this November.
His opponent in the mayor's race, political first-timer Eva Ng, who is endorsed by the city Republican Party, had been hammering him to say whether he planned to run for governor.
Coleman's decision still leaves a full-to-bursting field of DFL hopefuls including Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, Sen. Tom Bakk, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, Rep. Tom Rukavina, Rep. Paul Thissen, Sen. John Marty and former Sen. Steve Kelley and others. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak also is leaning toward a run.
The Republicans face an equally crowded field. Ten candidates have said they are running, and more may yet jump into the race.
Staff writer Chris Havens contributed to this report.