U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, one of the top brands in Minnesota GOP politics, has taken himself out of the running for races against either DFL Gov. Mark Dayton or U.S. Sen. Al Franken.
The three-term Minnesota Republican issued a statement Monday saying he has decided “not to seek election for a different office in 2014.” Paulsen instead plans to seek another term in the U.S. House.
Paulsen’s decision leaves the GOP field open to declared gubernatorial candidates Scott Honour, a businessman and venture capitalist, and Hennepin County Commissioner and Republican National Committeeman Jeff Johnson.
It also leaves the Minnesota GOP still casting about for a high-profile challenger to Franken, once seen as a top Republican target.
Franken campaign manager Matt Burgess said the 2014 election is “a long way away, and right now Senator Franken is continuing to focus on his job.”
Paulsen said his decision came after “thinking carefully about how I can best help my fellow Minnesotans.” He added: “If the people of the Third Congressional District will allow me, I hope to continue my work in the U.S. House of Representatives, where I can be most effective.”
For Paulsen, the decision also represents the choice of a relatively safe seat in Congress over the gamble of taking on an incumbent senator with a high profile and a national fundraising base.
Paulsen joins U.S. Rep. John Kline in bowing out of a challenge to Dayton or Franken. Both Republican House members had been subjects of early speculation about runs for statewide office.
Polls show U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann a party favorite to take on Franken, but she has not telegraphed any interest as she continues to deal with ethical and legal issues from her 2012 presidential campaign.
Paulsen, who might have been an instant GOP front-runner if he got into either race, said the encouragement of supporters was “deeply humbling.” But he said he decided he could be more effective in the House, where he serves on the influential Ways and Means Committee at the center of national tax policy.
“I have never run for office to be someone,” Paulsen said. “Rather I have wanted to do good things.”
Paulsen also used the announcement to cast himself as a bridge-builder who can help close the partisan divide in Washington. “Since my first campaign, I have criticized Congress as a broken institution,” he said. “I have never shied away from pointing out my own party’s failings in what is the mess known as Washington.”
He said he plans to continue his campaign in Congress to repeal the medical device tax that helped fund President Obama’s health care overhaul.