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No Daudt in governor’s race if Pawlenty runs

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House Speaker Kurt Daudt's not-quite-in, not-quite-out flirtation with a campaign for Minnesota governor could ultimately be decided by somebody else: Tim Pawlenty.

Daudt, the top-ranking Republican in a state office, has kept the door slightly ajar beyond multiple self-set deadlines for declaring his 2018 intentions. On Thursday, Daudt indicated he would defer to Pawlenty, the former two-term governor. Pawlenty opened a campaign committee for governor last week and is all but certain to seek a return to his old job.

"I'm planning to seek re-election for my own seat and am not actively seeking higher office at this point," Daudt, of Zimmerman, told reporters at the Capitol. He added, "It looks at this point that Tim Pawlenty is going to get into the race. If he doesn't get into the race, there might be an opening for someone else to get in and I certainly could look at it. I'm committed to the work we are doing in the Legislature and I'm committed to representing my constituents in the best way that I can."

The more Daudt spoke, the more he distanced himself from a possible campaign for higher office.

"Barring some big change, I'm going to stay right where I am," he said.

The deadline to shift course is early June, when candidate filing closes.

Daudt and Pawlenty are the last major question marks in a governor's race already in full swing.

Four other Republican hopefuls have been making the rounds since last year in pursuit of the party's endorsement. They are: former state party chairman Keith Downey, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, Naval Reservist Phillip Parrish and Woodbury Mayor Mary Guiliani Stephens.

On the Democratic side, the field has narrowed to three: state Rep. Erin Murphy, State Auditor Rebecca Otto and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz.

Both parties will try to endorse candidates at June conventions, although contested August primaries could still be required to pick the fall nominees.

Incumbent DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is stepping aside after his second term.

The open office, along with the possibility Republicans can sweep to total control as they have in all neighboring states, has made this a closely watched contest.

Daudt said Pawlenty's prominence would only add to the intensity.

"I think his entrance into the race is a good thing," Daudt said. "I think he has a potential to raise a lot of money and be a high-profile name and figure in the governor's race."

That said, Daudt isn't endorsing any candidate for now. He said Pawlenty is going to have to win over Republican activists and convention delegates. Daudt is a delegate to the Republican Party's  endorsing convention in Duluth.