The DFLer is out of the U.S. Senate contest but could resurface in a bid for another office.
Patty Wetterling sounded a mysterious note as she ended her yearlong bid to become the DFL's U.S. Senate candidate Friday, refusing to say whether she would resurface in another race and taking no questions.
The move has refueled speculation that Wetterling will either re-enter the Sixth District congressional race, where she ran a respectable losing contest against incumbent Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., in 2004, or compete for lieutenant governor or even secretary of state.
DFL gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Mike Hatch, who first approached Wetterling about being his running mate nearly a year ago, said Friday that "I want to talk to her -- about all kinds of things. I'm a big fan of hers."
Wetterling's exit clearly solidifies Klobuchar's hold on front-runner status in the DFL Senate race.
It makes Klobuchar the only woman candidate and the only one pledged to abide by the DFL's June endorsement.
Veterinarian Ford Bell said that the differences between him and Klobuchar will become sharper now and that he will continue to seek the endorsement but plan for a primary.
Jennifer Duffy, of the Cook Political Report in Washington, D.C., said that "all other things being equal, I think Klobuchar's the nominee." Wetterling, Duffy said, had "perhaps underestimated the intensity of the Senate race. She seemed to be taking more time to gear up while Klobuchar was going 80 miles a minute."
Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said Klobuchar was the "unambiguous winner" in the latest development.
Armed with Wetterling's support, Klobuchar is virtually assured of the endorsement, he said, and can train her sights on Kennedy, who is the presumptive GOP nominee for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Mark Dayton.
But there remains at least one unknown factor in the Senate race: the possible entry of lawyer Mike Ciresi, who lost a 2000 primary race to Dayton and who has been quietly considering a 2006 run.
Ciresi has not returned repeated calls by the Star Tribune.
Money could be used in congressional race
Lacking big-name donors and high-powered endorsements, Wetterling suffered in the race for cash, posting a balance of only $289,000 in her last campaign finance report on Sept. 30, compared with $1.36 million for Klobuchar.
New reports are due at the end of the month, and campaign manager Carol Butler said that while Wetterling had a small donor base of 15,000, money had been a struggle. "Was Amy Klobuchar raising more money than us? Absolutely," Butler said. "Patty Wetterling was never going to be the big money candidate."
But in a congressional race, even the $289,000 Wetterling had would make her a player, possibly making up for a late start. Wetterling could transfer her funds to another federal race, although she would be prohibited from moving them to a state race.
But Duffy said the House race "is the most difficult option for her right now. She's probably got enough money to make a decent showing, but she had the chance and turned it down. If she's got statewide ambitions, the lieutenant governor or secretary of state spots might be the smarter political move."
Butler said Wetterling was "not taking anything off the table."