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But if Pawlenty doesn’t run for re-election, how about …

I know, I know. In a recent post I made the case that Gov. Tim Pawlenty would run for a third term in 2010. Suppose, just suppose, I was wrong.

I know, I know. In a recent post I made the case that Gov. Tim Pawlenty would run for a third term in 2010. Suppose, just suppose, I was wrong. Republicans, then, are going to need a candidate.

How ’bout someone who has won every election he’s been in since 1980? How ’bout someone who has racked up as much as 79 percent of the vote in a Republican primary and 73 percent in general elections?

How ’bout Jim Ramstad, the Third District congressman who has announced he’s going to hang it up after nine terms? The commute is getting to him and the lack of comity among colleagues is disheartening, he said. He wants to stay home. He’s not looking at the governor’s office. “I have given no thought to it,” he said in an email response to the possibility.

But if someone talked the congressman into a statewide run, it wouldn’t be without precedent.

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It was 1976. After almost 20 years of serving the old First District, Republican Al Quie decided he’d had quite enough of Congress. He announced he would not seek reelection in 1978. Subsequently, DFL Gov. Wendell Anderson engineered his own appointment to a vacancy in the U.S. Senate and Lt. Gov. Rudy Perpich became governor. Perpich then announced he would run for a full term as governor.

Oh, that incensed Quie, so much that he vowed he’d run against Perpich, he recalled in a recent interview. He talked to his wife about it, got Gretchen’s blessing, and ran. He spanked the DFLer, winning by more than 112,000 votes. It was the year of the Minnesota Massacre, a woodshed moment for DFLers. Republicans Dave Durenberger and Rudy Boschwitz were sent to the U.S. Senate.

Quie had Republican endorsement when he ran. That would be problematic for Ramstad because of his pro-choice stance on abortion and moderate positions on other social issues. But, said Quie, “One thing stands above all these social issues — winning.” Could be. Look at the national support Rudy Guiliani is getting from Republicans, though he has to walk white hot coals on abortion questions in every debate.

But moderate Republicans have run in Minnesota primaries and won after failing to get endorsed by social conservatives who dominate the party. In 1982, Wheelock Whitney beat Lou Wanberg in the Republican primary only to lose to Perpich, the come-back kid. In 1994, incumbent Arne Carlson failed to get the endorsement and ran against Allen Quist, the party’s choice. Carlson won and then beat Perpich.

Quie earned a reputation in Congress for pushing education and education reform. It was an issue that crossed party lines and helped him pick up DFL votes when he ran for governor. “Anybody who runs has to have a passion for something that crosses political lines,” Quie said.

Ramstad, a recovering alcoholic, has for years pushed Congress on the issue of parity in health insurance — the belief that people struggling with chemical dependency and mental illnesses deserve comparable coverage to people struggling with physical illnesses. It is an idea that was championed by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

“It all depends on what Jim decides to do in the meantime,” Quie said in response to the question of whether Ramstad could be a Republican candidate for governor. “He would have to become known on some other issues as well. He would have to gain the respect of Republican conservatives.”