Pawlenty’s Political Future: When Will We Know?

Although taxes and vetoes are the talk of the town today, reporters at the State Capitol would still like to know the answer to the question: “When is Governor Tim Pawlenty going to announce his future political plans?”

Most analysts and pundits, homegrown and in D.C., have come to the conclusion that the Governor will not run for reelection, and will instead continue to lay the groundwork for a run at the White House in 2012. The idea is that, if Pawlenty has ambitions of becoming President (in 2012 or, more likely, 2016), those dreams will be dashed should he lose his bid for a third term in 2010.

What this theory fails to calculate is a) the (less than even) odds of Pawlenty actually losing in 2010 (after all, the Governor remains fairly popular with Minnesotans, and the political climate, statewide and nationally, is due for a pullback from the Democratic Party after big gains in ’06 and ’08), and b) the odds of Pawlenty being able to defeat a sitting president, were he to land the GOP presidential nomination (which is also an unknown).

As such, Smart Politics is not so quick to rule out the Governor making a run at history to become the longest-serving Governor in the State of Minnesota, and, all the while, taking a wait-and-see approach to the ultimate success of Barack Obama’s presidency.

And if Pawlenty does plan to run for reelection, when can we reasonably expect to hear the news?

The Governor is clearly not going to announce any plans until after the end of session and the dust settles from the budget battle between himself and the DFL-controlled legislature. But does this mean, assuming the legislature wraps up its business without a special session, that we’ll know the Governor’s plans by the summer? Not necessarily.

When Pawlenty first ran for Governor in 2002, he waited until September 6, 2001 to make a formal announcement. Of course, after ceding the GOP U.S. Senate slot to Norm Coleman earlier that year (in part due to pressure from D.C.), there was little doubt Pawlenty would ultimately seek the Governor’s mansion in 2002.

The Governor stated his intention to seek a second term, falling short of making a formal announcement, in October 2005. But Pawlenty did not actually launch his official campaign unitl May 31st of 2006 – some seven months after DFLer Mike Hatch kicked off his campaign (although Pawlenty had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the meantime).

As such, if past is prologue, the media might be sitting on the Capitol steps a long time this summer waiting for an answer from the Governor that may not come until mid-autumn. That said, Pawlenty has stated he will make his future political plans known at some point in 2009.

And, if he has a flair for the dramatic (and is taking as many notes as possible on the Obama presidency), he’ll wait until as late in the year as possible.

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