Pawlenty decides against third term

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) announced Tuesday he will not seek a third term, setting off speculation that the Republican in the solidly blue state could be eyeing the White House in 2012.

"I still have a lot of ideas and energy left. But being governor should not be a permanent position for someone," Pawlenty said.

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The two-term governor who narrowly won reelection in 2006 denied that he has made any plans, but he insisted that he will play a role in the rebuilding of the Republican Party.

"I don't know what my plans are. I don't have any plans beyond [the end of his term]. I don't know what the future holds," Pawlenty said.

"The Republican Party in Minnesota and nationally is going to need to do better. We're the party of the marketplace and the market has been signaling movement to our competitor," he said. "My party needs new ideas and new policies and I think I can contribute to that."

Announcing his decision, Pawlenty pointed to steps his administration had taken on education reform, support for veterans and improving health care. But he singled out keeping spending under control as one of his top accomplishments.

"We kept Minnesota competitive by imposing some much-needed discipline on government by keeping a lid on taxes and spending," he said. "We even succeeded in achieving the long-standing goal of moving Minnesota out of the top ten most highly-taxed states."

His profile is on the rise lately after a very public clash with the Minnesota state legislature. The governor has taken it upon himself to cut Minnesota's budget deficit, a move that has won him acclaim in several national publications.

He will be in Washington this week, where he will keynote the College Republican's national convention. Earlier this year, Pawlenty gave a well-regarded speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

He has pursued an approach advisors describe as modern, rather than carving out a conservative or centrist niche, and has been an outspoken advocate for a new approach for the GOP writ large. He has repeatedly spoken of appealing to what he calls Sam's Club voters, independents more focused on pocketbook issues than on divisive social issues.

"We need to do better with younger voters. We need to do better with more diverse voters, particularly including Hispanic voters. We need to do better with women," he said in a February interview with The Hill. "And so the faces and the voices of the party, while remaining conservative, in the future need to look and feel and be different than what they've traditionally been."

Pawlenty steadfastly refused to rule any future options in or out. But if he is to launch a White House bid, Pawlenty will have to address a glaring weakness some in Washington have already identified.
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The knock on Pawlenty has always been that he lacks an organization that would allow him entry to major players if he decides to take his aspirations national. To that end, the governor has an increasing number of allies in Washington, with several prominent Republican strategists working behind the scenes to introduce him to influential party members.

Back in Minnesota, Pawlenty never won more than 47 percent of the vote in his state, aided twice by independent candidates who took parts of the Democratic vote share. In 2006, he won by just 21,000 votes out of about 2.2 million cast. The close races, strategists said, did not play a role in his decision to step aside.

Recently, the governor has seen his disapproval rating on the rise. An April poll conducted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune showed Pawlenty had a 48 percent approval rating, lower than it had ever been in one of the newspaper's polls. His disapproval rating had risen to 36 percent in that poll.

Still, he insisted Tuesday, his decision was not influenced by whether or not he could win a third four-year term.

"I absolutely could have won, would have won, a third term," Pawlenty said. "I'm announcing my decision now so that candidates interested in running for this office will have ample time to make their plans and make their case to the people of Minnesota."

This story was updated at 3:28 p.m.