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Area GOPers speculate on Pawlenty’s future

By Matthew Stolle

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

ST. PAUL — To the end, Gov. Tim Pawlenty was the good soldier for the Republican Party and the presidential campaign of John McCain.

As the two-term governor took center stage on Thursday at the Republican National Convention for a brief speech, it was impossible not to indulge in a bit of speculation about what might have been.

Up until late last week, Pawlenty was thought to be at the top of a short list of vice presidential possibilities. Then word broke that Pawlenty had been passed over in favor of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

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Pawlenty has deflected questions about his personal feelings about being passed over, but certainly there has been disappointment in the Minnesota delegation. Nor has he indicated what his political plans are.

"There’s a little bit of a letdown," said state Rep. Randy Demmer, a Hayfield Republican and national delegate to the convention. "He would have been a great choice." But Demmer added that delegates are excited about McCain’s choice for running mate, saying, "Gov. Palin is a great choice."

For months, the question of whether he would accept a slot as McCain’s No. 2 was an inescapable reality for Pawlenty. Now a new question arises: What’s in store for Minnesota’s governor?

Pawlenty is almost certain to be offered a role in a McCain administration should the Arizona senator take the White House. Pawlenty was a stalwart in the McCain campaign, stumping across the country and raising his profile in states from New Hampshire to Iowa, and in battlegrounds such as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He made the rounds on cable and network political shows.

"He was a real winner in this process," said state Republican Party chairman Ron Carey. "He has been introduced to the country as a rising star."

Pawlenty has two years left on his second term, and probably will face a monster budget deficit next year. The November election could cause him major heartburn if Democrats pick up a handful of seats for a veto-proof majority in both chambers.

Pawlenty won’t say whether he’ll try for a third term, a rarity in Minnesota. Many, including several candidates lining up to seek the office, don’t think he will.

GOP Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem is not one of those people. The Rochester Republican says he recently put the governor in a playful headlock and said, "Tim, four more years."

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"I believe strongly that Tim Pawlenty will run for governor in 2010, and he’ll be re-elected," Senjem said.

Senjem said he’s never once seen Pawlenty show disappointment over the recent turn of political events.

"I suspect there was some degree of personal disappointment. It certainly doesn’t show through. He’s graciously accepted his role in this campaign," Senjem said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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