Norm Coleman is seen by gubernatorial contenders as someone with big pluses and minuses.
The biggest mystery, now that Democrat Al Franken is heading to the U.S. Senate, is how soon Republican Norm Coleman will let Minnesotans know whether he wants to be their governor.
Even as a victory rally Wednesday was ending for Franken on the State Capitol steps, state Republican Party leaders held a news briefing a block away to outline plans for the 2010 gubernatorial race -- and invited Coleman, and anyone else, to join in. "I talked to Senator Coleman briefly," said Tony Sutton, the new Republican Party state chair. "It's my understanding that nothing's been ruled in or ruled out."
Coleman's possible entry into a race that's still 16 months away was greeted with both wariness and inevitability by potential rivals. "He'd obviously be the leader right away on the Republican side," said Matt Entenza, former House Minority leader and a declared DFL gubernatorial candidate. "I think he would win a [Republican] primary going away. ... I think it'd be his race to lose."
One day after he conceded the U.S. Senate race -- and left a crack open on a possible gubernatorial run -- Coleman is seen as a candidate with big pluses and minuses.
His likely gubernatorial competitors say his name recognition and proven fundraising ability make him formidable. His legal fight against Franken won admirers across the state Republican Party's base, which will play a large role in choosing a gubernatorial nominee.
Coleman could simply say he was going after a job he lost in 1998 to Jesse Ventura.
But Coleman would face potential roadblocks. The FBI is still investigating his relationship with Nasser Kazeminy, a major political donor accused in lawsuits of funneling payments to Coleman through a business where Coleman's wife worked.
Coleman, who turns 60 next month, may also need to freshen up his pitch as the man who reinvented himself from 1960s activist to George Bush Republican.
What do the people think?
As he announced his own gubernatorial ambitions Wednesday, state Sen. Mike Jungbauer, R-East Bethel, said a Coleman candidacy would present Republicans in Minnesota with a tough choice.
"You don't know what the people think about Norm after the extensive [recount] things," Jungbauer said. "Will they support him in terms of real support, a sympathy support or are people just angry at that whole thing?"
A two-term senator who said he admires Coleman, Jungbauer predicted "he's not going to get the buy-in from the new, younger Republicans. They're more aggressively Libertarian. ... He would do great if he got through the endorsement process. I think his hardest battle will be the endorsement process."
Former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, who said he would formally announce his gubernatorial campaign Tuesday, said he is aware Coleman is already casting a long shadow over the governor's race.
But Seifert said his own political website, even at this early stage of the race, had a record day Tuesday, securing at least $5,000 in political contributions. "We thought that was a good, one-day haul," Seifert said. "If they really believe in Norm, [the money] will start showing up on his side."
Seifert said that while Coleman can tap a national base of influential donors, he has his own growing list of heavy-hitter supporters.
"Our large donors are coming in nicely," Seifert said. "I have Bill Cooper on board." Cooper is chief executive officer of TCF Financial and a former state Republican Party chairman. "I don't know that he necessarily has a leg up on things," Seifert said of Coleman. "I would love to be on stage with Norm Coleman in a debate about 21st-century solutions to things."
House Speaker Margaret Kelliher, a likely DFL gubernatorial candidate, said Coleman's entrance into the race would not have a big impact on DFLers gauging a run for governor -- for now. "I don't think it changes anything," Kelliher said Wednesday as she waited for Franken to appear at the State Capitol rally.
The timing is revealing
But Kelliher said that she was struck by Coleman's statements Tuesday, that he might have an announcement on his political future as early as next week. "I think the timing of what he said about next week makes me kind of think he might be" running for governor, she said.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, another possible DFL candidate, dismissed Coleman's name recognition as a factor in the race for governor. "Just remember now, I'm the only Coleman in elected office," he said, laughing. The two are not related.
Sutton made clear Wednesday that he would not "pick the candidate" for the Republicans, but conceded that he had ties and friendships that others will watch closely. Sutton is business partners with Cooper in a chain of Mexican restaurants and is close to Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria, an announced gubernatorial candidate, and state Department of Labor & Industry Commissioner Steve Sviggum, a possible candidate.
"You can make a case that I know all these people," Sutton said. "So, don't read anything into it.
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673