Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Tuesday he won't seek a third term, but he was also coy about his political future.
"We don't have term limits in Minnesota, but we do have good judgment and common sense," Pawlenty said Tuesday afternoon to a packed Governor's Reception Room in the State Capitol, a news conference that included outstate reporters via phone link.
Two terms is enough, the Republican governor said, adding it's time for someone else to lead.
While pledging to "run a marathon" for the remaining 19 months of his term, Pawlenty, 48, gave no hint of what he'll do after -- dodging questions about a potential 2012 presidential bid.
"I do not know what my future plans are, I really don't," he said. "I'm going to mow the grass and ... try to watch as much of my kids' sports as much as possible."
An avid hockey fan and player, Pawlenty joked that there is an opening for a Minnesota Wild general manager.
Pawlenty was on the short list of vice presidential running mates for Sen. John McCain, aced out by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Since then, he's been a frequent guest on national cable news programs.
"My focus is going to be on the next 19 months and finishing this term out strong," Pawlenty said when the first question asked was whether he'd run for president in 2012. "One of the things we're going to be working on is keying up a vision for Minnesota, not just for the next 19 months but the next 19 years."
Beyond that, he said, "I don't know what my plans are. I don't have any plans beyond that. I don't know what my future holds for me."
But he talked of promoting a new Republican, a "Sam's Club Republican" more concerned about pocketbook issues than social values issues, and that he plans to continue speaking to national groups. That includes a trip Friday to Washington, D.C., to speak to College Republicans.
"My party needs new ideas, new policies," he said. "I think I can contribute to that. ... The Republican Party nationally and in Minnesota is going to need to do better. We're the party of the marketplace and the marketplace has been signaling movement to our competitors, so we need to do better."
The pendulum swings back and forth in politics as part of the rhythm of political life in America, he said. "I'm going to do what I can to help get a Republican elected governor in this state, and as time and circumstance allow, I'm going to try to lend voice to the need to raise issues and ideas for my party here and elsewhere, if I'm asked, because I think we need new ideas and new faces in the party."
Pawlenty says he views his role as "trying to develop new ideas, develop some new energy in the party. It's got to be a party that can accommodate both Colin Powell and Rush Limbaugh, if we're going to be successful. It's not either/or, it's both. And we need to be a party of addition, not subtraction. I think I can help with that effort."
While being coy about his future, Pawlenty when done serving as governor in January 2011, would still have nearly two years to gin up a presidential campaign -- or a Senate campaign should he choose to take on Democrat Amy Klobuchar.
Pawlenty's announcement didn't faze Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, who said Tuesday night that the governor's abrupt take over of settling the budget dilemma with line-item vetoes and unallotment signaled he may not want to face voters in 2010.
A host of Democrats already are seeking the seat, and Skoe said that "we don't need any more candidates -- we've got lots of them running already."
Politically, "it's one thing to be Mitt Romney and be former governor and have national presence, because you've got money," Skoe said of a potential Pawlenty presidential bid. "It's harder when you're Tim Pawlenty from Minnesota to keep national visibility. He's working on it. He's a great politician."
"I think this last session I've heard so many people comment that he must not be planning to run again, or he wouldn't be leaving us with such a severe budget problem in the future," said Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.
Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said he hopes that Democrats, while they are bashing Pawlenty, will hope that he succeeds in balancing the budget with unallotments that respect Minnesota's values, such as providing the least impact on the most vulnerable.
"If he does (succeed), we do," Howes said. "That's the key. We need to succeed, whether you agree with what we're going through now (or not)."
Potential GOP candidates for the governor's office began lining up as soon as Pawlenty was done with his announcement. Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, put up a "Brod for Governor" Web site within hours of the announcement.
House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, plans to announce today that we will not seek re-election to his leadership post for the next session, which may be part of a cryptic comment by Howes on Tuesday night.
"There will be a major announcement at 11 o'clock tomorrow morning," Howes said. "There'll be another announcement on June 24, and probably another announcement on June 30."
Asked to elaborate, Howes said today's announcement will be "about someone switching jobs or whatever. On the 24th there'll be an announcement of somebody having a new job, and on June 30 or thereabouts there'll be an announcement of somebody whether they are going to run or not."
The blogosphere was full of potential Republican candidates, among them former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, former U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, former Pawlenty chief of staff Charlie Weaver and former State Auditor Patricia Anderson.
Lt. Gov. Carol Malnau said she was taught "never to say never," but said her run at governor would "probably not" occur.
Pawlenty opened his remarks by thanking God, his family and Minnesotans for allowing him to be governor. He also thanked legislators and public servants throughout Minnesota.
"While sometimes we may have had our differences, I have great respect and appreciation for good people who are willing to enter the difficult arena of public service."
He said he's "been constantly inspired by the courage and ingenuity of Minnesotans. ... Serving this incredible state has been the great honor of my life."
As hallmarks he cited Minnesota's programs for veterans, among the best in the nation, his ability to hold down taxes and putting Minnesota ahead of the curve on energy and conservation.
His greatest mistake, he said, was forcing a $4.5 billion budget shortfall solution in 2003 without raising taxes past Democrats.
"In 2003, we ran the table pretty hard on the Democrats, and I think there's a lot of bitterness because of that," Pawlenty said. "If I had to do that over again, I think I would have allowed a little more room for mutual victory. I think they were so angered and bitter by that defeat that it kind of poisoned the well for quite some time after that."
Despite being a lame duck, Pawlenty said he won't forget rural Minnesota.
"You'll see in the coming months I'm going to remain very active as governor, and I'm not going to honker down in the Capitol," he said. "I will be, as I've always have been, around Minnesota a lot. I not only know all the airports and all the airport managers, I know all the dogs in all the airports around Minnesota."