Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s announcement officially makes the 2010 governor’s race a bench-clearing brawl. The DFL bench has already cleared as 12 or 13 people begin to run. Now the GOP bench is clearing, and no matter who ends up with the nomination on either side, this is setting up to be the most exciting governor’s race in some time.
DFLers have had plenty of time to prepare for the race; GOP contenders couldn’t be as bold in their planning or whispering. All of this chaos emerges when the party — nationally and locally — is at a critical point in deciding the direction it will take.
Libertarian GOPers (Ron Paul supporters) have had a greater influence on party offices in the Fourth and Sixth districts, and they will affect the race between Dave Thompson and Tony Sutton for party chair. They will also be a major factor in the party’s endorsement for governor next year.
The last time the party faced such internal battles was in the early 1990s when Allen Quist and the social conservatives essentially took over the party — and have held a strong power base ever since. Like the DFL, the GOP endorsement will be a critical step for any candidate. Unlike the DFL, it isn’t clear who will challenge an endorsed candidate.
The big guns in this race will be Michele Bachmann and Brian Sullivan, if they run. If they run against each other, it will be a divisive backroom brawl where a third consensus candidate — like Geoff Michel, Steve Sviggum or Charlie Weaver — could emerge.
And because politics can be unpredictable, keep your eye on the up-and-comers to see if they can get traction as a fresh name or a fresh face as part of the GOP’s effort to redefine itself.
In alphabetical order, here come the elephants to replace Pawlenty as the GOP candidate:
Pat Anderson: A few years ago, Anderson emerged as a likely candidate when and if Pawlenty were to move on. But now she doesn’t seem to have the same energy or star power within the party. Taking over the Free Market Institute after losing her re-election as state auditor hasn’t provided the profile that she may have hoped. Her name may get floated, but most think she’ll decide quickly not to run.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann: Bachmann needs no introduction, and even Republicans wince when you mention her name for statewide office. That said, they will also admit that she is the favorite daughter of the socially conservative dominated base within the GOP. Her reputation as a tireless campaigner and political animal would make her a serious contender for the GOP nomination and a primary victory.
Rep. Laura Brod: Brod seems to be everyone’s favorite GOP woman other than Bachmann. Brod’s suburban style, but greater Minnesota district, will put her on the short list for higher office for years to come. If she runs, there will be no downside for her and she will get a chance to build a fundraising base and raise her profile. But if the big guns run in 2010, she’ll likely stay in the state House or broker a deal at the convention to be the lieutenant governor.
Rep. Tom Emmer: If Emmer had defeated Marty Seifert to be minority leader in the House, he would have been well-positioned to be the new face of the GOP. His edgy style in debates, while entertaining, could be perceived as angry and temperamental. His strength is that he could bridge the gap between the social conservatives and the emerging libertarian base.
Sen. David Hann: Hann is as smart and thoughtful a senator as you’ll find in Minnesota, but he doesn’t seem to have the political radar or necessary political hunger to play at the governor-race level. He has represented his Eden Prairie district well, and gained the respect of DFLers, but in the end it’s hard to see where he finds traction on the statewide stage.
Sue Jeffers: Jeffers briefly ran against Pawlenty in 2006, and was successful in identifying the disenchanted conservatives with a more libertarian bent. She and Marianne Stebbins have been the main organizers of the Ron Paul movement that has played a role in the battle for state party chair and will affect the race for governor. Jeffers could have enough support to swing the endorsement one way or another.
Rep. Paul Kohls: Relatively unknown, but Kohls is thinking about running. His district in fast-growing Carver County looks a lot like Dakota County a few years ago when Pawlenty ran. Kohls doesn’t have the profile Pawlenty had back then. Without a major legislative record, and not likely to be a big fundraiser, his interest in higher office and will put him on the list of rising stars. But he isn’t likely he can get through the GOP party battle.
Sen. Geoff Michel: Michel is the brightest GOP star in the Minnesota Senate and could easily rally the business community to his side. He would be challenged within the GOP endorsement process, but could be a consensus candidate if the GOP activists focus on winning. He turned down a bid for Congress last year, and he has a taste for office, so this could be his chance to see if the party can still support a pro-business GOPer before the social conservatives or libertarians have an unrelenting hold on the party.
Former U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad: Ramstad is another candidate that the DFL would fear. His pro-choice moderate track record in Congress would give Democrats a tough fight in a general election. However, Ramstad would likely be persona-non-gratis with the vast majority of conservative GOP activists. His high profile will allow him to wait on the sidelines as the GOP bench clears to line up for their shot because money and name ID wouldn’t be an issue for Ramstad.
Minority Leader Marty Seifert: Seifert survived a leadership coup attempt from Emmer after the 2008 elections and was critical in upholding Pawlenty’s vetoes, proving his political skill. Known for quips and cute quotes, Siefert has the conservative credentials and is very personable. His weakness may be the political profile or fundraising database of the competition. If it’s a crowded field, Siefert has trouble.
National Committeeman Brian Sullivan: Sullivan came close to defeating Pawlenty for the endorsement in the 2002 governor’s race as a political neophyte. He has politically matured, but has not likely moderated any on his conservative values. He has been very involved in party affairs, and is conservative enough to get the party’s endorsement. If he and Bachmann both run, it could be another long battle for party blessing.
Steve Sviggum: Sviggum, state commissioner of labor and industry department, may be the Republican that DFLers fear the most. His greater-Minnesota, salt-of-the-earth style and political skill made him the most respected GOP legislative leader on both sides of the aisle in recent times. A favorite with the media and as authentic of a person as Minnesota has seen, he could have broad appeal as well as the conservative credentials that give him a chance within the GOP.
Former Rep. Charlie Weaver: Weaver may be the most pragmatic conservative that the GOP has run statewide other than Pawlenty. As Pawlenty’s first chief of staff, Weaver was missed in the later years by the Capitol crowd for his ability to build alliances with legislators and because he was the best political brain Pawlenty has had in the office. Now having been head of Minnesota Business Partnership for a few years, he could talk about jobs better than anyone else on the GOP side.