Several hundred party activists gave Gov. Tim Pawlenty a standing ovation when he stepped to the podium. Even though he isn't running for a third term, Pawlenty told the audience that 2010 will be a good year for Republicans. And those thinking about succeeding Pawlenty were busy working the crowd.
Some of the candidates used the meeting to tell delegates that they're officially in the race. Former House Speaker Steve Sviggum said he's running. He said he's reminding delegates that the race for governor is critical, since Democrats control the House and Senate by wide margins.
"It's imperative," said Sviggum. "It's absolutely necessary that the governorship stay in Republican, conservative hands, so that there will be some balance in the best interests of the state."
Sviggum said he would likely step down as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry as the campaign gets more serious.
He wasn't the only one working delegates in the hallway. House Minority Leader Marty Seifert was surrounded by a crew of supporters in "Vote Marty Seifert" t-shirts handing out buttons. He's been contacting activists since Gov. Pawlenty said he wouldn't run for reelection. Seifert said he's telling activists that House Republicans stopped Democrats from overriding Pawlenty's veto during a tough legislative session. He also said he's a proven fundraiser as minority leader.
"When they're looking for all of the things about message and messenger and ability to raise money and the ability to get staff put together, they're looking for the whole package, not just part of it," said Seifert.
State Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria, said he's also officially running. His campaign literature told activists that he's already started putting a campaign infrastructure in place. Kohls said he intends to take a leave of absence from his private sector job at Allianz Life Insurance to campaign.
“It's absolutely necessary that the governorship stay in Republican, conservative hands, so that there will be some balance...”Steve Sviggum
"To run for governor in a state the size of Minnesota with a population like we have is absolutely a full time job," said Kohls. "And I don't know any other way to do this other than all in."
Former State Auditor Pat Anderson also said she's probably going to run. Anderson said she's been telling delegates that she's the only candidate in the race who's won a statewide election.
"All the other ones are state legislators. They're former legislators or current legislators," Anderson said. "I'm the only candidate that's had executive experience in office."
Former state Rep. Bill Haas, R-Champlin, who officially announced his campaign this week, actively courted delegates. And several other state lawmakers said they're weighing their options. Supporters of state Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, handed out literature urging delegates to persuade him to run. Hann said he hasn't made a decision yet. Neither has state Representative Laura Brod, R-New Prague.
"You can leap in or you can do it right," said Brod. "And for me, I want to understand where Minnesotans are at and I want to communicate a message that works."
Brod, like most of the other potential or declared candidates, said the economy and job creation are the top issues facing the state. Republicans say lower taxes and spending cuts will help bolster the economy.
Businessman Brian Sullivan announced a few days ago that he won't run. But the big question is whether any other well known Republicans will get into the race. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said she's happy with her job in Washington, but she didn't rule out a run for governor.
"It would have to be if I felt like I was supposed to do it and right now I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be. If my heart moved in the other direction and I had the tug, I'd do it," Bachmann said. "I wouldn't be afraid to run for office. I just don't feel like the tug."
Several Republican activists and consultants say they think Bachmann would be the odds-on favorite if she entered the race.
And former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, who is still fighting in the courts to win the 2008 U.S. Senate race, also wouldn't take a potential run off the table. But he said his primary focus is the U.S. Senate race.
On the DFL side, as many as ten Democrats have said they're running, or are interested in running for governor in 2010.