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Coleman drops out of DFL race for governor

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Chris Coleman speaks at the State of the City.
Former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman speaks at the annual State of the City speech inside Steamfitters Pipefitters Local 455 in St. Paul on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated 4:47 p.m. | Posted 4:29 p.m.

Chris Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor and son of a past DFL heavyweight, ended his bid for Minnesota governor Monday, not long after a disappointing finish in a precinct caucus preference ballot.

Coleman had been seen as a top contender when he entered in December 2016. He served three terms at the helm of the state's capital city. And he had earned support from labor unions and a decent number of greater Minnesota mayors, the type of blend a candidate needs to be successful in the long run. Coleman also posted big fundraising numbers, second only to fellow DFLer and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz.

Walz, though, ran away with the win in last Tuesday's non-binding straw poll, taking 30 percent of the votes. 

Coleman came in fourth among the named candidates, with just shy of 12 percent. More people had marked the "uncommitted" line than supported Coleman. He'd put a brave face on the results, saying on Facebook the next day that the caucus "was only just the start."

But what had been a busy schedule for Coleman ahead of the caucuses seemed to fall off sharply. He had no events listed on Facebook for the days and weeks ahead.

  On Monday, Coleman said in a statement that he was suspending his campaign "with a heavy heart" but called the DFL field for governor "very strong."

He thanked supporters and said he would work to help elect the DFL candidate. He did not endorse a specific candidate.  

Coleman hadn't ruled out running in a primary if he couldn't secure the party's June endorsement for the open governor's mansion. But doing so would have required him to considerably ramp up fundraising and left him to consider stepping up his criticism of Walz.

Coleman, 56, completed his third term as mayor in January, allowing him to tout his executive experience in the race. He is the son of the late Nicholas Coleman, a former state Senate majority leader and party stalwart.

With Coleman out, the battle for the DFL endorsement has narrowed to Walz, three-term State Auditor Rebecca Otto and state Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul, a former House majority leader. Further back in the field is state Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester.

State Rep. Paul Thissen on Wednesday dropped out a day after his poor showing in the DFL caucuses. He finished last among the six Democrats in the running.

The final word on the nominee won't be made until August, when a primary is held. But that primary won't necessarily feature serious competition for the endorsed candidate.

On the Republican side, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson is seen as having the edge in his endorsement contest against former Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey, Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens and Naval Reserve officer Phillip Parrish. Johnson was the party's 2014 nominee, but lost his bid to unseat DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

Former two-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty is considering entering the Republican race but has not given a timetable for a final decision. If Pawlenty runs, there's a strong chance he would head to a primary rather than committing to the GOP endorsement process.