ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday ruled out a run for political office in Minnesota in 2014, leaving Republicans without a top prospect in what are expected to be competitive races for U.S. Senate and governor.
Advisor Brian McClung, who was Pawlenty's chief spokesman for much of his two terms as governor, told The Associated Press that the former governor had ruled out the races as he prepares to take a new job as chief executive of The Financial Services Roundtable, a Wall Street lobbying group.
"With this new position, Governor Pawlenty is taking off the table running for U.S. Senate or governor in 2014," McClung said in an email. Pawlenty himself declined to comment in an email.
Pawlenty's new job, which primarily involves lobbying Congress on behalf of Wall Street interests, was announced Thursday morning. He's leaving the position of national co-chairman of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign since the Roundtable is a bipartisan organization.
Pawlenty was twice elected governor, in 2002 and 2006. He tried for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination but ended his campaign abruptly in August 2011 after a poor showing in a straw poll of Iowa GOP voters. He also was a finalist to be Romney's vice presidential running mate but lost out to Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.
"He's got kids going to college. I expect this is a high-paying job," said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. Jacobs said it's not unusual for politicians to move in and out of lobbying jobs and that the 51-year-old Pawlenty's decision shouldn't necessarily be looked at as a permanent departure from electoral politics.
But Minnesota Republicans could have made good use of Pawlenty in 2014, when both U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton will be running for second terms. Both of those Democrats won their races by extremely close margins that required statewide recounts. Minnesota Democrats expect both Franken and Dayton will run for re-election.
Pawlenty's 2006 win was the last time a Republican won a statewide race in the state, which would have made him an immediate top contender if he had decided either to run for the Senate or to attempt a comeback to the governor's office.
"I think he would have cleared the field in any race he was interested in," said former House Republican Leader Marty Seifert, who lost the party's endorsement to succeed Pawlenty in 2010. Seifert said he's not interested in the U.S. Senate race but hasn't ruled out another bid for governor.
Both races could get crowded. Coleman is said to be interested in running again, either a rematch with Franken or for governor, a seat he ran for but lost in 1998. State House Speaker Kurt Zellers is seen as interested in challenging Dayton.
Coleman and Zellers did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Ron Schutz, an attorney at the Minneapolis firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, told the AP that he's seriously considering both the Senate and the governor's race.
"Of course we have to get past the 2012 election first," Schutz said. But, he said, if President Obama is reelected, then 2014 could be a good year for Republicans since the party of an incumbent president has historically done poorly in the following election.
State Rep. Keith Downey and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer also are mentioned as prospects, and current members of Congress such as Michele Bachmann and Erik Paulsen also could be contenders.
With all those and others likely to consider the races, Republican insiders think 2014 could be the year when GOP candidates break with recent history and opt not to honor the party's endorsement. The state GOP's ongoing financial struggles, and the recent growth in influence within the party of followers of libertarian-leaning Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul could make that more likely.
"If we see Ron Paul style candidates who get endorsed in what should be very competitive races, I think it's a given that you'll have candidates who decide to go to a primary," said Andy Brehm, a Minneapolis attorney and Republican strategist.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.