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Pawlenty signals interest in governor's race, calls donor meeting

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Tim Pawlenty
Tim Pawlenty
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is actively considering a political comeback.

Pawlenty is weighing a campaign for his old job and is convening a group of Republican donors and political movers this month as he seeks advice about entering a governor's race without a clear favorite.

Pawlenty sent emails on Wednesday to a select group, inviting them for a morning gathering on Feb. 12 at an undisclosed Minneapolis location with the agenda as "important meeting regarding Minnesota's future." 

The email obtained independently by MPR News and later verified as authentic by a Pawlenty adviser asks the recipients to reserve the time and promises details on the location later. 

Brian McClung, a former top aide and longtime adviser to Pawlenty, confirmed it is is an indication of his active consideration of a bid. McClung said Pawlenty "will be talking with Minnesotans over the coming weeks to assess support and gather advice."

Pawlenty, who served from 2003 to 2011, has also been calling Republicans he's had a prior relationship with to discuss the race. 

He didn't return a message left directly with him seeking comment.

The ex-governor has been coy about his political plans. He has declared himself politically retired but won't close the door to a return to public life. 

Last month, he ruled out a special election campaign for the U.S. Senate seat that Sen. Al Franken gave up and Democrat Tina Smith now holds.

"I am very interested in public service and service for the common good, there are a lot of different ways to do that, but I'll tell you today that running for the United States Senate in 2018 won't be part of those plans," Pawlenty told the Fox Business Network in January.

Since leaving office, Pawlenty ran unsuccessfully for president and for the past several years has led the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington-based trade association and lobbying arm for the banking and insurance industries.

Pawlenty, 57, is the last Republican to win a statewide race in Minnesota. He narrowly earned a second term in 2006 in a three-way contest. That has some in his party encouraging him to jump into the race for an open seat.

If he runs, Democrats say they would hammer Pawlenty as a Wall Street insider. Republican rivals have signaled they would go after Pawlenty over the way he distanced himself from now President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. 

Pawlenty split with Trump after the vulgar "Access Hollywood" tape emerged late in the campaign and called Trump "unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit" to be president.

But Pawlenty backers argue he has assets the current crop of Republican candidates don't. They say he is already widely known around Minnesota and has a ready-made fundraising network. 

Other Republicans in the race struggled to raise money last year — in part because of Pawlenty's possible entry — and have been lapped by most DFLers running for the job.