Norm Coleman said no. The former U.S. senator, whose political power loomed large over the Minnesota governor's race, announced late Sunday that he wouldn't run for governor this year.

"This is not the right time for me and my family to conduct a campaign for Governor," he said in a Facebook post. "The timing on this race is both a bit too soon and a bit too late."

It was too late for him to organize his troops for what is expected to be a heavily contested GOP endorsement battle. That battle will start on Feb. 2 with precinct caucuses.

It was too soon after the brutal and extended 2008 Senate fight -- which he lost to Democrat Al Franken after a recount and trial -- for him to jump back into electoral politics.

"The commitments I have to my family and the work I am currently engaged in do not allow me to now go forward," he said. Coleman has been working to create a think tank and action network for center right politics and policy.

He was the Republican nominee for governor in 1998, losing to Jesse Ventura, and was elected as St. Paul mayor first as a Democrat, then as a Republican, after he switched parties in 1996.

Without him in the 2010 race, the governor's contest can settle in for the long haul. With Gov. Tim Pawlenty's decision not to run for reelection while exploring a presidential bid, seven Republicans and another 12 Democrats have filed to run. Many of them have been campaigning a long time.

Republicans feared Coleman, who hadn't even begun to woo potential delegates, would run in the primary, shattering the possibility of party unity. Some activists pleaded with him online not to create that kind of contest.

Late last week, he responded to one activist by saying, he's not "looking for another elected" office but "none of us should ever be afraid of listening to the voices of the people."

State Rep. Marty Seifert, a Republican from Marshall who considers himself the front-runner based on his fundraising so far, reacted to Coleman's decision by saying Minnesota has become stronger because of Coleman's "selfless dedication to public service."

But he also applauded the decision, saying it should benefit his campaign.

"I think it strengthens our position," Seifert said. "It is very positive. It certainly brings clarity to the race."

In his statement, Coleman said that he still wants to be involved in advancing "the values of fiscal responsibility, entrepreneurship, effective government change, national security and respect for life."

Pat Anderson, who announced last week she was withdrawing from the race, said Coleman's decision caught her by surprise.

"I fully expected him to make the decision to run," said Anderson, who withdrew from the race in part because she thought he was going to run.

The former state auditor said late Sunday night that she will not re-enter the race and will instead focus on her candidacy for state auditor.

Heron Marquez Estrada contributed to this report Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164