With Gov. Tim Pawlenty out of the running, the 2010 Minnesota governor's race is suddenly wide open.
Although the DFL candidate field has been solidifying and expanding for months, the potential Republican field has been, in effect, nonexistent.
Any members of the GOP harboring gubernatorial aspirations were sitting on their hands, waiting to see what Pawlenty would do.
Now that he has announced that he won't seek a third term, it's not likely to take long for one or more Republicans to announce plans to run.
The most intriguing possibility, occasionally mentioned by national political analysts, would be a run by Norm Coleman, if he decides to concede the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat, which he held for one term.
Along with Pawlenty, Coleman is the state's most prominent Republican. And if he ran, it would be no small irony, considering that in 2002, Pawlenty planned to run for the Senate seat -- until the White House explicitly intervened to dissuade him in favor of Coleman. Only then did Pawlenty set his sights on the governor's office.
Among other potential candidates are House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, and Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester.
Michel said a "boatload of Republicans" have been waiting for Pawlenty to decide on a third term.
Former House Speaker Steve Sviggum and former state Auditor Pat Anderson also are considered possible candidates, as is GOP activist Brian Sullivan, who ran against Pawlenty for the Republican endorsement in 2002.
Former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams and U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy have been mentioned as theoretical possible candidates, as has been current Rep. Michele Bachmann.
On the other side, among DFLers who have either announced candidacies or have been mentioned as possibilities are former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, former state Rep. Matt Entenza, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, state Sen. John Marty, state Sen Tom Bakk and state Rep. Paul Thissen.
Dayton said he wasn't surprised by Pawlenty's decision, "given that he has sacrificed Minnesota's best interests on the altar of his higher political ambitions for the last couple years. No one who intended to remain in the state would have made the terrible budget decisions that he is imposing on Minnesotans."
Dayton said that Pawlenty faced an uphill battle in 2010 against any DFL opponent, although he said the governor would have been "a formidable opponent."
"I always assumed it would be a hard-fought election [in 2010] and I would expect the Republican candidate to be largely a proponent of Gov. Pawlenty's policies, so in that sense some of the issues won't change," Dayton said.
Former DFL House Minority Leader Matt Entenza also said he wasn't surprised by the decision. It's unusual for a Minnesota governor to run for a third term, he said, and the last one to try - former DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich - stumbled in the attempt. Pawlenty had to be worried about whether or not he could be reelected, Entenza said, especially given the depleted condition of the Republican party and its economic vision.
Another factor may have been more personal, he said. "I've certainly had many disagreements with the governor, but you have to recognize that he and his family have made a lot of sacrifices" in his 17 years in the House and the governor's office, Entenza said.
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report.
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