ST. PAUL—Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty stole the spotlight from Republican candidates in the governor's race Tuesday, Feb. 6, hours before party loyalists gather to pick their favorite candidate in a straw poll.
The two-term Republican governor made a surprise announcement Tuesday morning that he will leave the Financial Services Roundtable next month. As leader of the Washington-based group, Pawlenty has been spokesman and lobbyist for financial services companies.
The announcement could lead to a Pawlenty candidacy after he meets with potential funders and other Republicans next week.
Pawlenty has delivered several Minnesota speeches in the past couple of months, sounding much like a candidate but always declaring he is "politically retired." Since leaving the governor's office seven years ago, he ran for president and after dropping out of that race he got the Washington job with the financial industry.
Before the Pawlenty announcement, two former state representatives running for governor had been the center of Republican attention on precinct caucus day.
The campaign of Keith Downey, a former GOP state chairman and state representative, sent party members an email that started: "It's time we talk about it. Jeff Johnson has run statewide twice and lost," with "twice and lost" in boldface type.
Johnson responded: "Unfortunately, one of my opponents—Keith Downey—has turned almost solely to attacks against me in the desperate hope of scoring higher in the caucus straw poll tonight. I won't respond in kind (though it would be pretty easy) because we won't win in November by tearing down other Republicans."
Suburbanites Downey and Johnson, a former state lawmaker and Hennepin County commissioner, were to be joined on the Republican ballot by Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens and teacher Phillip Parrish of Kenyon.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party ballot included U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, state Rep. Paul Thissen, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, state Rep. Erin Murphy, state Rep. Tina Liebling and former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.