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All smiles, Tim Pawlenty announces Tuesday he will not run for Minnesota governor again. Looking on are his wife, Mary, and their older daughter, 16-year-old Anna. Don Davis/Minn. State Capitol Bureau

Pawlenty 'not ruling anything in or out'

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ST. PAUL - Tim Pawlenty rules out another run for Minnesota governor, but keeps the door open for offices such as the presidency.

"I still have lots of energy and ideas," Pawlenty said to a packed Tuesday news conference. "But being governor should not be a permanent position for someone. When it comes to how long someone should stay in an elected position, a little less is better than too much."

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The 48-year-old governor announced he will not seek a third four-year term - something no one has done successfully - but dodged questions from reporters around the country about whether he would run for president.

"I am not ruling anything in or out," he said, claiming not to know his next political step.

However, he said that he will be active in national Republican politics, including a Friday Washington speech to College Republicans.

"I'm going to try to lend voice to the need to raise issues and ideas for my party here and elsewhere, if I'm asked, because I think we need new ideas and faces in the party," he said.

The governor told reporters asking questions about his legacy that he will work hard for Minnesota in his remaining 19 months in office.

"This is not a wake," Pawlenty told journalists packed into the governor's reception room in larger numbers than for most news conferences.

Pawlenty has been prominent on the national scene for more than a year, beginning when John McCain considered him as a running mate. While the Minnesotan finished second to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, he has remained a regular on national news shows and on the GOP speaking circuit.

In Minnesota, Tuesday's announcement opens the doors for a wild 2010 governor's race. More than a dozen Democrats already are considering seeking the office, but political observers say even more likely will examine the race now.

And Republicans who would not seriously consider running for governor as long as Pawlenty thought about a third term now will begin to make their moves.

For instance, House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, is considering running. Today he plans to announce that he will not seek the leadership position again next year, increasing speculation that he will run for Pawlenty's job.

The governor said he made the announcement early so potential candidates had time to begin campaigning. But he said he would not pick a favorite immediately.

"It is the dawn of a new day," Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said about prospects for a new governor.

The governor, who said he made his decision within the last 10 days, spent 45 minutes answering questions from Minnesota reporters in the Capitol as well as state and national journalists hooked in via a telephone conference call. Most questions were about his presidential ambitions, and he handled each pretty much the same.

Pawlenty said he will focus on the 19 months he has remaining in office. "Beyond that, I don't have any plans."

With Pawlenty were his wife, Mary, and daughters Anna, 16, and Mara, 12, along with Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau.

"I'm delighted with the decision," Mary Pawlenty said. "From our family standpoint, two terms is enough."

She deflected a question about whether her husband would be a good president, but one of Pawlenty's closest friends said Pawlenty would be good in the White House - or whatever else he wants to do.

"I think he is open to it," Charlie Weaver said. "He probably will explore it."

Weaver, who was Pawlenty's first chief of staff, said the sky is the limit for Pawlenty.

"I think he has got lots of options," Weaver said. "He is a very smart guy with a terrific background who can really do anything he wants."

Another friend said Pawlenty's strongest trait is his personality.

"He's just a class guy, politics aside," said Joel Carlson, a Republican who represented Moorhead in the Legislature and now is a lobbyist.

Carlson said Pawlenty's personality shines when he takes part in hockey games, skates and other events Carlson organizes for charity. The governor has taken part in about 20 such events.

"This guy is out there daily," Carlson said about Pawlenty interacting with the public. "He is the most gracious politician."

Many Democrats were not so gracious when discussing the governor's actions.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, thanked Pawlenty for his service - which included 10 years in the state House - but said budget-cutting decisions the governor will make in the coming weeks will hurt Minnesotans.

"If, as he indicated, his unallotments mirror his first budget plan, we can expect deep cuts that will cripple our schools, hospitals and nursing homes, more Minnesotans will lose their health care and thousands of jobs will be lost," Sertich said. "It is potentially dangerous that these decisions will be made unilaterally by someone who is now unaccountable to Minnesota voters."

Pawlenty on Tuesday said he has not decided how he will cut the state budget, in a process known as unallotment, but indicated local governments will be among those to face reductions. Such decisions have enraged Democrats, who wanted to raise taxes to bolster the state budget during the current recession.

Lots of Democrats are lined up to run for Pawlenty's job.

The biggest Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party names in the race or thought to be interested in running include House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, state Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, former state Sen. Steve Kelley of Hopkins, former state Rep. Matt Entenza of St. Paul, Sen. Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud and state Sen. John Marty of Roseville.

Since Republicans were waiting for Pawlenty's decision, they generally are not as far along as Democrats in the campaign process.

Those most often mentioned include Seifert, former Eagan mayor and ex-State Auditor Pat Anderson, state Rep. Laura Broad of New Prague, former House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon, state Sen. Geoff Michel of Edina, Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, Rep. Paul Kohls of Victoria and one-time governor candidate Brian Sullivan.

Also discussed is Republican Jim Ramstad, the Jamestown, N.D. native who represented the western Twin Cities in the U.S. House until recently. Weaver is considered a potential GOP candidate, as is former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams.

Most potential candidates refused to discuss their plans on Tuesday, saying it was Pawlenty's day.

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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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