Pawlenty will skip GOP convention, go to primary

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty answered questions during his first press conference since launching his 2018 campaign. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty will bypass his party’s convention and head straight to an August primary as he tries to regain his old job.

Pawlenty’s campaign announced Tuesday that he wouldn’t try for the GOP endorsement at the state convention next month. Spokesperson Sam Winter said Pawlenty entered too late so it “may not be realistic” to secure delegate backing.

“Tim appreciates the convention delegates, but his late entry into the race precluded a fair fight for endorsement at the convention,” Winter said. “As a result, he has decided not to participate in the convention and instead will make his case directly to the broader and larger group of voters who will be participating in the Republican primary on Tuesday, August 14th.”

Pawlenty ran twice with the Republican Party’s endorsement, including a hard-fought win in 2002 during a convention that went more than a dozen ballots.

His decision all but assures the GOP of a contested primary. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens and former Naval Reserve officer Phillip Parrish are all in the running for the endorsement, and all pledge to end their campaigns without it.

Johnson, the 2014 Republican nominee for governor, is viewed as the endorsement front runner when the party gathers in Duluth in early June.

Johnson issued this statement Tuesday:

“Tim claims to be the “A Team” and the only strong Republican in the race, but a strong candidate would be able to win the support of the most active Republicans in MN. If he can’t even compete for the support of his base, he’ll be a disaster in the general election.  Minnesotans are not interested in a business-as-usual establishment politician; they want someone who will fundamentally change a broken and arrogant government. I will continue working hard toward earning votes, winning the endorsement and rallying the Republican Party behind me.”

No Republican has won a statewide race since Pawlenty’s 2006 re-election victory. But Pawlenty is also testing recent history given that Republicans tend to nominate their endorsed candidate, with the 1994 governor’s race featuring incumbent Arne Carlson an exception. Carlson was not endorsed but won a primary.

The DFL Party could also find itself with a primary showdown. Three contenders remain in that race: state Rep. Erin Murphy, State Auditor Rebecca Otto and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz.

Otto and Murphy have indicated they will abide by party endorsement, but Walz has not made that commitment. Still, Walz intends to seek the party nod at the June convention in Rochester.

Minnesota is expected to have one of the nation’s most-watched governor’s races. Incumbent Mark Dayton, a DFLer, is retiring after two terms. Republicans have eyes on total control of state government, while Democrats are trying to hold back the GOP wave that has swept through the Upper Midwest.

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