Who's in and who's out for governor? Jockeying gets underway for 2010

A day after Gov. Pawlenty said no to a bid for a third term, the field of potential candidates grew, while other familiar names said they're not in the hunt.

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Minnesota House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, announced Wednesday that he will leave his leadership position so he can focus on a possible run for governor in 2010. Seifert said he didn’t want to take advantage of his position for political gain.

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More potential gubernatorial candidates emerged Wednesday -- and others said thanks, but no thanks -- as the news that Gov. Tim Pawlenty won't seek a third term continued to roil the political waters.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, announced that he was giving up his leadership post to test those waters as a possible candidate. Labor Commissioner Steve Sviggum, a former Republican House speaker and a friend of Pawlenty's, said he's mulling it over.

Former U.S. Sen. Dean Barkley, who came in third in last year's U.S. Senate race, is interested, according to the Independence Party chairman. And Charlie Weaver, head of the Minnesota Business Partnership, said he is seriously considering a run and would make a decision this fall.

Others whose names had surfaced took themselves out of the running Wednesday. U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a popular DFLer who represents Minnesota's First District, said he had no intention of making the race. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, a Republican, said he won't run, although he wouldn't foreclose the possibility of a different race sometime in the future.

The two major-party candidates who ran against Pawlenty in 2006, DFLer Mike Hatch and Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson, said they had no plans to try again.

Meanwhile, the guy whose announcement on Tuesday started the fuss went before a national TV audience to reiterate that his decision wasn't merely a prelude to a run for the presidency.

Appearing on MSNBC, Pawlenty recycled many of the demurrals he had used Tuesday to deflect questions about his political plans. "I'm not ruling anything in or out," he said.

He seemed to become somewhat testy at one point when his interviewer pressed him on his presidential aspirations. "Do you know what you'll be doing three years from now?" Pawlenty asked.

The governor also talked about his hope that the Republican Party can become more inclusive and attractive to voters.

Seifert made much the same point during his announcement at the State Capitol that he was stepping down as House Republican leader after two years. The 12-year legislator will retain his House seat, however.

The party, he said, needs to find a gubernatorial candidate "who is principled and electable, both. ... If we don't, I think it could spell trouble."

Others have held onto leadership posts while running for other offices, including Pawlenty when he was a House leader while running for governor in 2002. But Seifert said he didn't want to take advantage of his position for political gain. "If you're distracted in any way, even if it's kicking the tires for a run at some other type of office, that is not fair to the membership," he said.

Seifert said that a new minority leader will be elected June 24. Some possible contenders have talked to him, he said, but "there isn't an heir apparent, to be honest with you."

In a conference call Wednesday morning in Washington, Walz said his job in Congress plays to his strengths better than would the governorship. "I am content and honored to represent the people of the First District and that's exactly where I would like to stay as long as they'll have me," he said.

Weaver, a former legislator, commissioner and one-time Pawlenty chief of staff, has deep ties in the GOP and is a close friend of the governor. "This is an extraordinarily important race to win and we need to make sure our nominee is electable. I fit that bill," he said.

Independence Party Chairman Jack Uldrich said he thinks his party has a good opportunity in 2010, given that the governor's seat will be open and that the party will get state financing for the race. Both Barkley and Stephen Williams, the party's Senate endorsee last year, have expressed interest, and former U.S. Rep. and Independence candidate Tim Penny hasn't ruled it out, he said.

Steve Kelley, a former DFL legislator who sought the party's bid for governor in 2006, is conducting an exploratory campaign for another shot. He has raised money, hired staffers and launched a website, and on Wednesday he was attending campaign events on the North Shore.

Pawlenty's announcement, he said, will make it "interesting to see who the Republicans come up with, but I don't see a change in the calculation for many DFL candidates."

Staff writers Bob von Sternberg and Eric Roper contributed to this report. Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164

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