Former GOP Congressman Jim Ramstad silenced speculation about his 2010 political prospects by announcing Tuesday that he won't be a candidate for governor next year.

"Although I plan to continue my public service, it won't be as governor," Ramstad said in a brief statement. He didn't offer reasons or return a call seeking comment.

Even though he was never officially in the race, Ram- stad's decision not to run leaves a hole in the expanding GOP candidate field. Although several legislators have entered the race, no one has Ramstad's blend of statewide name recognition, bipartisan appeal and fundraising ability.

The only possible candidate who might currently match those advantages is former Sen. Norm Coleman, who has not said what his plans are.

Dan Hofrenning, a St. Olaf College political science professor, said Ramstad's biggest problem as a candidate would have been securing the endorsement of a party generally more conservative than he is.

"It's not clear he would have gotten the nomination, but he would have had a shot in the primary [election]," Hofrenning said. "Right now is a period of searching for the Republican Party, and Ramstad's withdrawal means the absence of a strong moderate voice."

Ramstad "would have been a formidable candidate, but I respect his decision" not to run, state GOP Party Chairman Tony Sutton said.

Ramstad, 63, retired from Congress this year after representing the west metro suburbs for 18 years.

His name was bandied about after Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced last month he wouldn't seek a third term, opening the door to GOP contenders.

On Tuesday, Ramstad said he was "humbled by the tremendous outpouring of support from people across party lines."

"I hope whoever is elected governor will bring people together and work in a bipartisan way," he said.