With a jolt, governor's race opens up

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 2, 2009 - 11:05 PM

With the Republican governor's announcement, the line of potential 2010 candidates began forming on the right.

The scramble to succeed Gov. Tim Pawlenty became bipartisan within minutes of the governor's announcement Tuesday that he would not seek a third term.

House Minority Leader Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, standing in front of a bank of microphones outside the governor's office, said he would have an "announcement of interest" today. Senate Minority Leader David Senjem of Rochester stood on the State Capitol steps moments later and said a run was something "I'd have to think about." And Sen. David Hann, the assistant minority leader from Eden Prairie, stood nearby and said he was already thinking about it.

With DFLers already lining up to run, the 2010 governor's race in Minnesota got a jolt Tuesday -- and that was without word from a politician many think may hold the key to the political landscape: former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman.

What interest Coleman might have took immediate center stage after Pawlenty's announcement, along with speculation about whether Coleman's extended push in the ongoing Senate race against DFLer Al Franken might work against him politically.

David Strom, an influential conservative and senior policy fellow at the Minnesota Free Market Institute, said that the governor's office would be an "attractive prospect" for Coleman but that the former U.S. senator would face a bruising challenge for the Republican nomination.

"If Norm Coleman had not come out ahead on the first [vote tally] ... I think the political fallout would have been quite significant," said Strom. But because Coleman was once seen as the race's winner, said Strom, "I think [the political fallout is] less than initially appears." Coleman's gubernatorial chances -- as well as any Republican's prospects -- could ultimately hinge on whether a third-party candidate took away votes from DFLers, he said.

Coleman issued a statement Tuesday praising Pawlenty, but did not respond to requests for comment about his own plans.

A DFL crowd, too

Among DFLers, Sen. Tom Bakk, chairman of the Senate Taxes Committee, said Tuesday he would formally announce a gubernatorial bid early next week. Bakk is on a long list of DFLers, including House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza and former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, who have either been prominently mentioned as possible candidates or all but announced their candidacies. Chris Coleman, the St. Paul mayor who has dueled publicly with Pawlenty in recent days over state aid cuts to cities, reiterated Tuesday that he also is considering entering the race. Others include Sen. John Marty, Rep. Paul Thissen, former state Sen. Steve Kelley, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Bakk and other DFLers said that any Republican gubernatorial candidate would face the added pressure of whether to sign a no-new-tax pledge -- as Pawlenty did when he won the GOP endorsement in 2002 -- and said that such a move would be even more difficult now given the nation's economic recession. "I don't think this next [Republican] candidate can sign the pledge," said Bakk.

While several possible DFL candidates praised Pawlenty's public service Tuesday, they quickly pivoted to separate themselves from him and, by extension, any Republican candidates. "My campaign for governor is about a new vision for Minnesota," said Entenza.

Framing the race

For both parties, Pawlenty's announcement set in motion an early attempt to frame an election that is still 17 months away. Among Republicans, the message was to remind Minnesotans of what might happen if DFLers were to hold not only majorities in the House and Senate, but also the governor's office. "[It would mean] extreme high taxation, businesses fleeing ... the middle class taxed down to oblivion," said Seifert.

For DFLers, the job was to emphasize that any Republican gubernatorial candidate would have to defend Pawlenty, a governor they said had few solutions for solving the state's budget dilemma, pushed to shift Minnesotans' economic problems to future generations and aimed his budget reductions at the state's most vulnerable residents. "As we move forward, it is imperative that we resolve to reject a Republican Party political philosophy that will surely try to maintain the Pawlenty agenda of insensitivity toward those most in need," said Susan Gaertner, the Ramsey County attorney and a DFL gubernatorial candidate.

Nonetheless the list of possible Republican candidates Tuesday stretched from former U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad to Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, who on Tuesday did not reveal her intentions. Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said he was "seriously" contemplating a run for governor.

Sue Jeffers, a former conservative gubernatorial candidate and the emcee of April's Tea Party tax protest at the State Capitol, stood outside the governor's office and said her own list of Republican candidates had swelled to 13 names. Her top choices, she said, were Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. "They don't need me," she joked, looking at the list of names she pulled from her purse.

Dan Hofrenning, a political science professor at St. Olaf College, said that while the "Republican brand is damaged" both nationally and locally at the moment, there is plenty of time to regroup in Minnesota before November 2010. "Things change quickly in politics," he said.

Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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