Potential contenders look to '10

It's 2008, but 2010 is on the minds of a few top DFLers - the 2010 governor's race, that is.

ROCHESTER -- Like many of her fellow officeholders, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner has a meet-and-greet booth near the convention floor at this year's state DFL Party convention.

But she's the only one with a sign saying she's running for governor.

"If you want an idea how serious I am, I've opened a Facebook profile," Gaertner said Friday.

Nevertheless, it's hard to toss an Obama button around here without dinging a possible DFL candidate for governor in 2010, when Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's second term ends.

Names of prospective gubernatorial wannabes being kicked around include mayors (R.T. Rybak and Chris Coleman), at least one state senator (Tom Bakk) and congressman (Tim Walz), a state House Speaker (Margaret Anderson Kelliher ) and former officeholders (former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and former state House Majority Leader Matt Entenza).

Gaertner, 53, who has been Ramsey County's top prosecutor since 1994, said that just as with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a background as a career prosecutor will provide the winning edge. Klobuchar was the Hennepin County Attorney before her election in 2006.

"The job hones skills that come in handy for governors," Gaertner said as she was working the crowd at Friday's packed convention. "They will see me as pragmatic and willing to work across party lines. My job is very much about making tough decisions."

Sen. Bakk, DFL-Cook, said his background as Senate tax chair offers its own unique qualifications. "I've been listening to people all over this state about their concerns," he said, "and I intend to do more of that." Bakk formed an exploratory committee earlier this week and said he will make a final decision sometime after the November election.

In the time-honored tradition of convention freebies, Bakk had commissioned special insulated mugs for delegates' goodie bags but, he was quick to add, the mugs reference Bakk as tax chairman, not as gubernatorial candidate.

"I'm considering it," said Minneapolis Mayor Rybak, "but I have the job I wanted all my life and in my free time I'm working on an unusually important presidential campaign."

Rybak, head of Barack Obama's Minnesota campaign, said a number of people have brought up the governorship with him.

Coleman, of St. Paul, said he, too, is concentrating on this year's electoral battles, but acknowledges that run-ups to the next campaign are longer than ever and that 2010 is quietly humming in the background against the louder noise of 2008.

"People have talked to me about it," he said. "It's something I'm considering. The reality is we have to focus our energies on this election, but you also have to look to the next one. I'm just starting to talk to people about what's important for 2010."

Coleman, not surprisingly, says the mayoral spot provides ideal preparation for the governorship. He and Rybak, he said, have been "on the frontlines of the transit issues, of budget cuts to cities. We know what lack of positive leadership at the top has done."

Kelliher and Walz have not said openly whether they are considering runs, although both could prove formidable should they decide to enter the race. With a homebase in Minneapolis and a hometown in rural Minnesota, Kelliher has a foot in two crucial worlds. Walz, a veteran, was able to foment a surge of DFL interest in 2006 and stage an upstart victory in what had long been considered GOP territory.

Gaertner said she has been running for more than a year, when she kicked off her campaign with a speech to a high school civics class in Sleepy Eye last year. As far as other candidates go, the more the merrier, she said; she's confident that she'll stand out, however big the field gets.

kduchschere@startrubune.com • 612-673-4455 plopez@startribune •651.222.1288

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