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A throng of reporters and photographers bigger than seen in the governor's reception room in a long time records Gov. Tim Pawlenty's June 2 announcement that he will not seek a third term. Now, there is a throng of candidates who want to replace him. File photo/Don Davis/Minn. State Capitol Bureau

Governor's race keeps politicos abuzz

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Governor's race keeps politicos abuzz
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ST. PAUL - There is a political buzz this fall unlike any ever heard around Minnesota.

Fourteen months before the next election, the state's political establishment is talking about the governor's race, talk that started the afternoon of June 2 when Tim Pawlenty announced he would not run for a third term. In a packed room just off his office, Pawlenty said the decision came early so others could get into the race.

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They did.

Potential Republican candidates' names began to emerge as soon as Pawlenty was done speaking, with few willing to rule out a run.

Not hindered by the need to be loyal to a governor of their party, Democrats already had begun to line up to run for the state's top elected post. That line grew throughout the summer.

Ten Democrats have filed paperwork to collect and spend contributions, with at least two more all but certain to enter the race later. Nine Republicans have filed, and more potential candidates' names are circulating.

It is a record crowd, with names many Minnesotans have heard - such as Dayton, Kelliher and Seifert - but many more unfamiliar names.

Leaders of both major political parties are thrilled at the interest.

"Such a large field means that a lot of people are talking about Republican beliefs, Republican ideals," state GOP Chairman Tony Sutton said.

Democratic-Farmer-Farmer Labor Party Chairman Brian Melendez said that this is a great time to be "sharpening their skills, honing their messages."

More than a year from the election, those in both parties have plenty of chances to hear candidates. Both sides have more joint candidate appearances planned than activists can remember.

Democrats expanded their traditional Founders Day Dinner fund-raiser ($500 a plate) on Sept. 26 to include a "candidates' fair." Those at the dinner will be able to go from candidate to candidate to discuss issues over dessert.

The DFL has no straw poll or forum at its Minnesota State Fairgrounds event.

Republicans are making a big deal out of their normally routine off-year convention.

Sutton will moderate a forum with all GOP candidates who want to take part on the night of Oct. 2 and he promises to encourage debate among the hopefuls. The next day, each candidate will speak to delegates gathered in St. Paul, then a straw poll will reveal who is ahead.

Republicans expect some of their candidates to drop out if the straw poll shows little support.

The early-February precinct caucuses could be a drop-out point for some candidates, Melendez said. Those attending caucuses will begin the process of picking delegates to the spring state conventions and some candidates may realize they do not have enough delegate support to continue. A series of other local and congressional district conventions could pare the field more.

The two parties' state conventions then become the focus for candidates. The GOP meets in Minneapolis at the end of April, while DFLers plan a June Duluth convention.

In each case, delegates are to endorse a candidate. However, a couple of Democratic candidates have said or strongly hinted that they will not abide by the convention endorsement, but will take the race to a September primary election. Both party chairmen discourage primary contests.

Party leaders' biggest fear may be that candidates go after others in their party.

"All of the candidates and all of our activists see the easiest way for us to lose is to attack ourselves," Melendez said.

Added Sutton: "All I am trying to do is foster a positive atmosphere for the candidates ... to try to keep them from tussling too much. The focus needs to be on the Democrats."

It has been a different political year. In many cases, would-be candidates publicly said they were thinking about running, then said they would run and, finally, made an official announcement, complete with cheering crowds.

"I used to think you were in or out," Melendez said.

Neither chairman knows if all the candidates are in.

"I would not be surprised if one or two more would emerge," Sutton said.

On Sutton's side, the biggest name who could get in the race is Norm Coleman, the former U.S. senator who put up a long fight before the courts declared Al Franken the winner of last November's election.

For Democrats, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak have made it clear they plan to run for governor. But, politically, they must wait until after their November mayoral elections to launch their campaigns.

Here is a look at Minnesota governor candidates, potential candidates and some politicians who have said they are not running:

Democrats

Tom Bakk. Filed. State senator from Cook and chairman of the Senate Taxes Committee.

Chris Coleman. St. Paul mayor faces a November election, but indicates he leans toward running for governor.

Mark Dayton. Filed. Former state auditor and former U.S. senator comes from one of the state's most famous business families.

Matt Entenza. Filed. Former state House minority leader from St. Paul ran into trouble and was forced out of the 2006 attorney general race.

Susan Gaertner. Filed. Ramsey County attorney has been running for some time, visiting all parts of Minnesota.

Mike Hatch. While the former attorney general and 2006 governor candidate from Burnsville has not said he wants to run, some Democrats expect him to.

Steve Kelley. Filed. Former state senator from Hopkins mostly is known for his work on education and his failed 2006 attorney general run.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher. Filed. Two terms as House speaker gave the Minneapolis resident lots of notoriety, but failure to reach budget deal with governor may hurt.

John Marty. Filed. Roseville state senator known for efforts to tighten politicians' ethics laws ran for governor once before.

Doug Peterson. Not running. Former state representative and current Minnesota Farmers Union president decided to stay where he is.

Tom Rukavina. Filed. Perhaps the most colorful state representative, the Virginia resident is House higher education and workforce chairman.

R.T. Rybak. Minneapolis mayor strongly hints he will run, but politically cannot make an announcement until after November's city election.

Ole Savior. Filed. It would not be an election without the Minneapolis artist running for a statewide office, and losing badly.

Paul Thissen. Filed. Four-term state representative from Minneapolis is best known for his work on health-care legislation.

Tim Walz. Congressman from southern Minnesota opted to run for U.S. House again.

Republicans

Pat Anderson. Filed. Former state auditor and Eagan mayor lost re-election as auditor in the Democratic year of 2006.

Michele Bachman. Congresswoman wants to stay where she is, unless "the lord" guides her to a presidential run.

Laura Brod. State representative from New Prague suspended her campaign for undisclosed health reasons.

Norm Coleman. Former U.S. senator says he will not decide about governor's race until next year, but would be a contender if he gets in.

Leslie Davis. Filed. Not normally a Republican, Davis is a perennial candidate and environmentalist.

Tom Emmer. Filed. Delano state representative is one of the House's most prolific speakers and one of its most conservative members.

Rod Grams. Former U.S. senator from Crown, who lost re-election to Mark Dayton, remains a potential candidate and is a GOP favorite.

Bill Haas. Filed. Ex-state representative is little known outside his Champlin-area district and the Capitol.

David Hann. Filed. State senator from Eden Prairie has become a conservative spokesman in his two terms.

Philip Herwig. Filed. While the first to file paperwork to run, the Milaca resident's campaign has gained little notice.

Michael Jungbauer. Filed. Two-term state senator from East Bethel is a water resources manager and minister to dirt bikers.

Mark Kennedy. Former U.S. representative said he is not interested.

Paul Koering. State senator from Fort Ripley thought about a governor's run, but opted to run for re-election.

Paul Kohls. Filed. Victoria state representative is among the young lawmakers who often rises to promote conservative ideals during debates.

Morrie Lanning. After earlier saying he was thinking about running, his name has not been brought up and he did not return a call seeking comment.

Geoff Michel. The two-term Edina state senator has said he may consider running, but has not pulled the trigger.

Carol Molnau. The lieutenant governor, who farms southwest of the Twin Cities, says she will wait to decide until after a late-October family meeting.

David Olson. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce chief thought about running, but is not actively pursing the job.

Jim Ramstad. The former congressmen from the western Twin Cities opted out of the race earlier this year, but on Friday left the door slightly open.

Brian Sullivan. The Twin Cities businessman who narrowly lost the party endorsement to Tim Pawlenty in 2002 does not plan to run.

Marty Seifert. Filed. A Marshall state representative, Seifert was the first big-name Republican to get into the race and he has extensively traveled the state.

Dave Senjem. Senate Republicans' leader, Senjem said he would think about running, but has not pursued it.

Steve Sviggum. The former House speaker and current labor and industry commissioner from Kenyon wanted to run, but federal laws delayed him getting into the race.

Mike Vekich. The St. Louis Park businessman and former Minnesota State Colleges and Universities trustees chairman is talked about, but has not jumped into the race.

Charlie Weaver. A former Anoka legislator, Weaver heads the Minnesota Business Partnership and is considering running.

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Note: "Filed" means a candidate filed paperwork with state officials to collect and spend contributions. Filing of papers to actually become a candidate does not happen until next year.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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