Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty has some choices ahead of him as a result of his withdrawal from the Republican presidential race. Pawlenty hasn't signaled what his next move will be, but he could become a factor again in Minnesota politics.
For Pawlenty supporters, this weekend's Iowa straw poll results means the end of a promising national campaign. For local Republicans, it signals a possible beginning.
"Like my mom always used to say, things always work out for the best in the end, and maybe this is an opportunity for Minnesota," said Tony Sutton, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party.
Sutton said he hasn't talked to Pawlenty yet, but knows what he'll say when the time comes.
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"Now that he's not running for president, I sure hope he'd consider running for U.S. Senate," said Sutton. "I think he'd make a heck of a candidate."
Just recently, Pawlenty dismissed the idea of running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Amy Kobuchar, who is up for re-election next year. Pawlenty's campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday. But Sutton isn't deterred.
"The thing about politics is, you never say never," said Sutton, saying Pawlenty was likely posturing about the Senate race because he was running for the White House.
"If you asked him today he'd probably say he wasn't thinking about it. But hopefully in the days and weeks ahead, and as he has time to decompress from this campaign, he'll have time to think about his future, and I think his future's bright," he said.
What does Pawlenty's exit from the presidential race and the Iowa straw poll win by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann signal about Pawlenty's political future?
Carol Molnau, who served as lieutenant governor under Pawlenty, says the signal is clear -- Republicans everywhere need to lean more conservative to win.
"I think if you listen to the people in all of Minnesota -- not just the metro -- but all of Minnesota, I think that's what Minnesota is," she said.
Molnau says Bachmann represents a shift in Minnesota Republican politics to a stronger and unequivocal focus on less government, low taxes, and a strict constitutional interpretation. She says that shift reflects a growing tide of the state's conservatives.
"I think the state as a whole is turning. I think the last election showed that," said Molnau. "More conservatives, more people who believe in personal responsibility, less government involvement, were elected. So it's already happened."
Other Republicans, rather than saying Pawlenty needs to lean more to the right, say he could learn something from Bachmann's style and language. Republican Jim McKie in West St. Paul would like Pawlenty to be more firm in his positions, like Bachmann.
"He's been said to be a very nice person. And maybe that has worked to his detriment," said McKie. "If he had said, 'These are my principles and I won't waver from them. If I am defeated because of them, then that's fine.' I think we need to have people who are willing to say, 'I can't compromise on this.'"
But of course there are some party members who don't want to see Pawlenty change. Rank-and-file Republican Michael Haeuser of St. Peter says candidates have to go to ideological extremes only to win over the small number of people who participate in the Iowa straw poll.
"This is Minnesota, and not Iowa," he said.
Haeuser says Minnesotans aren't looking for people on the far right. As proof, he also cites the last statewide election when Republicans selected conservative gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who lost to DFLer Mark Dayton.
"I don't think they'd do that again, that they'd select some far right-wing person," he said. "Pawlenty was a popular governor, so I think he could make a good run for Senate. Unfortunately Ms. Klobuchar is up first, and she's very popular."
Sen. Klobuchar declined to comment for this story. Haeuser says it's too bad DFL Sen. Al Franken isn't up for re-election until 2014, because he thinks Franken would be easier for Pawlenty to beat.