Although he has not yet formally announced his candidacy
for governor of Minnesota in 2018, former two-term
governor and 2012 presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty
has resigned his position as CEO of the DC-based Financial
Services Roundtable. a non-profit advocacy group for the
The only conclusion that might reasonably drawn from
Pawlenty’s action (he is only 57) is that he has decided to run
again for governor, a quest he had already publicly stated he
The timing of his resignation -- just before Minnesota’s
precinct caucuses --- also sent a signal to Republican voters
that it was too early to make commitments in the governor’s
In fact, GOP turnout at the caucuses was less than 1% of the
Republican Party’s voters in the state, and as it has been in
recent years, virtually meaningless. None of the already
announced GOP candidates has yet to develop strong support.
Jeff Johnson, the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2014, holds a
lead in most straw polls, but these only measure a tiny number
of party activists, and none of these polls so far have included
Minnesota is almost certainly going to be one of the key
battleground states in the 2018 national mid-term elections.
With a retiring Democratic (here called the Democratic-
Farmer-Labor Party or DFL) governor, the Gopher State is one
of the few states where the GOP could make a pick-up. Since
controversial junior Senator Al Franken resigned unexpectedly
at the end of 2017, there will now also be two U.S. senate seats
on the ballot next November. The former Franken seat, now
filed with DFL appointee Tina Smith, could also be won by the
Republicans --- although the party has yet to come up with a
big-name challenger for the seat. DLFers hold five of the eight
congressional seats, but four of the eight (two held by each
party) are competitive this year ---the largest percentage of
close U.S. house races in one state nationally.
Complicating predictions about this cycle is that fact that
Donald Trump almost carried Minnesota in 2016. Although
this state has alternated between being “blue” and “red” in
recent decades, no GOP candidate for president has won here
Recent polling shows that the two party bases, including GOP
support for President Trump, remains mostly unchanged
Some good news for DLFers at the precinct caucuses just held
was that liberal activist turnout was clearly stronger than
conservative activist turnout. But precinct caucuses only
attract a tiny percentage of those who vote in November. Most
competitive nominations in Minnesota are now settled in the
party primaries.The party endorsement process in both
parties is clearly undemocratic and often self-defeating ---
and has been in decline for several cycles.
Mr. Pawlenty, by entering the race after the caucuses, could
easily by-pass party endorsement at the summer GOP
convention, and go directly to the Republican primary on
August 14. In that primary, he would be the strong favorite.
On the DFL side, retiring Congressman Tim Walz from
southern Minnesota had a strong lead at the recent DFL
precinct caucuses, unexpectedly so in the Twin Cities. He
might be able to avoid a primary contest, but he has several
well-known DFL officials competing with him. In any event,
he is now the clear favorite to be the DFL nominee.
With Pawlenty appealing to suburban and some urban
voters, and Walz appealing to some exurban and rural
voters, each party would be trying to expand their base.
A Pawlenty-Walz gubernatorial contest next November in
Minnesota could be the marquee statehouse race of the cycle
in the nation.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.