So why would anyone be thinking about the governor's race right now? Aren't we still trying to pick a senator? ¶ Here's a good reason: Beginning this summer, serious candidates must start fundraising at the staggering clip of $10,000 a day to amass the estimated $4 million needed for a credible run in a race that will be wide open. ¶ In the coming months, this brawling, sprawling field of nearly 30 candidates and potential candidates will be intent on winnowing down your choices before you even get to know their names. ¶ Makes you wince, right? Can't we please, please, catch a momentary respite between campaigns? Uh, sorry, no. That is, unless you want to wait until the field is down to two, and you're wondering why you don't have other choices. ¶ With that in mind, here's a glimpse at the gantlet would-be governors will have to run and how the hopefuls stack up, with the proviso that it's a loooong way to November 2010. THE CANDIDATES? If you haven't heard of most of these folks (and this isn't even an exhaustive compilation), you will. For sanity's sake, we'll split them into several categories:

DEFINITELY IN: Easily the best-known DFLer is former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, whose fortune, name recognition and TLOT (Time Logged on Trail) make him formidable. Lesser known but with nearly as much money is former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza. Lesser known still but with arguably the most TLOT is Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, who was holding house parties before '08 had even wrapped up. State Sen. John Marty knows the ropes, having been the DFL candidate in '94. The lone Iron Ranger in the race, Senate Taxes Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said over the weekend he officially is a candidate.

Republicans, having had less than a week's notice that the big dog is leaving the park, are still considering their options, with most of them still ...

THINKING ABOUT GETTING IN: Here's where you'll find the chorus line of GOP legislators and others who thought they might have to wait years for a shot at the big time. They'll join an even longer line of DFLers who were (a) chased out of the U.S. Senate race by big names/big money or (b) wary of taking on Pawlenty.

They range from state Sen. David Hann and state Rep. Paul Kohls, a couple of smart if stolid GOP conservatives, to gregarious Minnesota Business Partnership director Charlie Weaver, who has connections to every corporation and high-level Republican in the state. Here, too, are both of the DFL mayors from St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. There also are former Republican U.S. Sen. Rod Grams and GOP National Committeeman Brian Sullivan, who has one try under his belt (he nearly bested Pawlenty for the endorsement in 2002) and millions at his disposal.

OTHERS TALK ABOUT THEM GETTING IN: Lightning rod Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has demurred, but not enough to convince those (on both sides) who find a Bachmann candidacy too irresistible to relinquish. Meanwhile, it's been a decade since his run at governor and he's still awaiting a court ruling on his old Senate seat, but some in his party are hoping Norm Coleman has one more try in him.

The Obstacle Course First step for all: Prove they can raise big money, charm fringy delegates but still pivot toward the mainstream and, oh, did we mention money?

NAME RECOGNITION: Few have any. If you're not governor, Joe Minnesota barely knows you exist. That's why polls don't mean much yet. (Test question: Did you have Barack Obama on your radar four years ago?)

RECORD/EXPERIENCE: Lots of solid performers here, with government experience or executive skills from running companies. Many have demonstrated ability to gather money and votes on a smaller scale. But that's a far cry from proving you can win over folks from Roseau to Rochester.

ENDORSEMENT: Most of your choices will disappear here at the parties' endorsing conventions next June. Delegates, the parties' most faithful, demand candidates adhere to a strict set of hot-button positions and promise not to run in a primary against the endorsee. They'll make it hard for candidates to steer toward the middle, where most Minnesotans live. Whether a candidate chooses to abide by endorsement can be career-altering. Just ask Mike Ciresi, Al Franken's DFL Senate opponent. His early promise to abide forced him to forgo a primary.

PRIMARY: Expect a vigorous primary in September '10, allowing candidates who could not win over delegates at the far ends of the political spectrum a chance to reach out to, oh, say, you.

ELECTION: Minnesota may be true-blue when it comes to the presidency, but it hasn't elected a Democratic governor in more than 20 years. Shorn of governors in other states and with no presidential race, national Republicans may direct attention and money to keep Minnesota's governor in their column. But Democrats, newly energized from Obama's win, with the largest House and Senate majorities in years and a powerful fundraising base, will pour everything into breaking their unlucky streak. Toss in a slim but feisty Independence Party that has guaranteed a series of three-way elections and you have all the ingredients for another wild political ride.

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288