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Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, works at his desk during a break in Minnesota House floor action on the next-to-last day of this year's legislative session. Lanning is among a number of Republicans being described as a possible candidates for Minnesota governor in the next election. Minnesota Capitol Bureau file photo

Republicans eye governor's race

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ST. PAUL - There's a whole lot of thinking going on.

Republicans across Minnesota are weighing the pros and cons of jumping into the governor's race now that Gov. Tim Pawlenty has bowed out.

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Two western Minnesota state representatives -- Marty Seifert of Marshall and Morrie Lanning of Moorhead - on Wednesday said they are thinking about it. Seifert said he is strongly considering it; Lanning was a bit less certain.

They are the first of what is bound to be many possible GOP candidates in what promises to be a wild and expensive governor's race. Around a dozen Democratic-Farmer-Laborites already are in - or nearly in - the governor's contest.

Seifert, the House minority leader, urged lots of Republicans to run. "One of the problems we have had in the past: We have had coronations, not competition."

A lack of candidates does not look like a problem. The prominent Republican blog Minnesota Democrats Exposed on Wednesday listed 18 politicians as likely GOP candidates, people ranging from former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams to long-time House Speaker Steve Sviggum.

But the blog missed some that are on other lists, including Lanning and former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, who is being discussed as a potential candidate if the state Supreme Court rejects his efforts to win re-election.

Seifert was first out of the blocks with a near announcement. He called a news conference to announce he would resign from his House minority leader post, but keep his representative job.

Reporters' first question was about the governor's race, and Seifert said he was strongly considering it.

"Right now, I'm feeling very good about my support so far," Seifert said. "It's in Duluth. It's in the metro. Of course, it is back home as well."

The Marshall lawmaker announced he would leave his leadership job so he could devote time to his gubernatorial exploration. He would not say when he will make his final decision.

Seifert, in office since 1997, said he did not think it was fair to divide his time between his minority leader duties and running for governor. House Republicans already plan to meet June 24, so Seifert placed an election for his replacement on the agenda.

Lanning, Moorhead's mayor for 22 years before becoming a lawmaker in 2003, said that over the years, as with many politicians, he has considered potential options, including making a bid for governor. Pawlenty's announcement, he said, "opens the door for me to be thinking about that possibility" again.

He said he doesn't know when he will make a decision, but said it will be done after talks with family members and potential supporters.

Republicans hold a rare off-year convention in September, when Seifert said a straw poll could whittle down the candidate list.

Pawlenty on Tuesday said polls showed him doing well in Minnesota.

"I absolutely could have won a third term," he said, raising questions about whether a Pawlenty-like candidate is the party's best chance to win.

The two-term governor said he will work to get another Republican elected to the office, but "I'm certainly not going to pick a candidate now."

He said he expects "a lot of friends running against each other."

When he said that he would not run again, Pawlenty said he made his announcement early so candidates could get started.

Besides campaigning, potential candidates must raise money. Pawlenty spent $4 million in his 2006 re-election big, which may be the floor for a successful candidate in the 2010 race.

Among Republicans being discussed is U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, a conservative spokeswoman on many national news shows these days, but her staff says she is not interested.

Also often mentioned is Coleman, now awaiting a state Supreme Court decision about whether his effort to be re-elected to the Senate could be successful. Talk around the Capitol is that if the court rules against him, he could consider running for governor, which he did in 1998. He has not commented on the prospect.

The Minnesota Democrats Exposed potential GOP candidate list includes former State Auditor Pat Anderson, Bachmann, Rep. Laura Brod of New Prague, Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood, Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano, Sen. Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville, Grams, Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, former secretary of state and current Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake, Rep. Paul Kohls of Victoria, former Rep. Phil Krinkie of Shoreview, Sen. Geoff Michel of Edina, former U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad of the Twin Cities, Seifert, Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem of Rochester, Twin Cities businessman Brian Sullivan, Labor and Industry Commissioner Sviggum of Kenyon and former Rep. Charlie Weaver of Anoka.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's Dave Olson contributed to this story.

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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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