The decision shakes up what is already considered a competitive contest to replace Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who is not running for reelection after two terms in office.
After mounting an unsuccessful presidential bid in 2012, Pawlenty became the leader of the Financial Services Roundtable, a trade group that represents major banking, insurance and investment companies in Washington. He resigned from that job in February to begin exploring a possible return to politics.
“Almost from the day he took that job, you could tell that he missed public service, he missed politics,” said Vin Weber, a Republican lobbyist who served as co-chair of Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign. “Tim has been moving around Minnesota in both political and donor circles for some time, and the response among Republicans and the business community has been overwhelmingly positive.”
On March 19, Pawlenty announced the formation of a fundraising committee for a possible campaign. He boasted Wednesday on Twitter of eating a pork chop and bowling in McGregor, Minn., before a meeting with local Republican leaders.
Pawlenty served as governor from 2003 until 2011, and his reelection in 2006 was the last Republican statewide win in Minnesota. He will face several Republican primary challengers, including Jeff Johnson, the commissioner of Hennepin County, who has dismissed the threat of Pawlenty’s candidacy and highlighted the former governor’s ties to Washington lobbyists.
“If Tim’s our candidate, no matter how much he talks about the future, this election will be about the past,” Johnson said in a Web video this month.
To prevail in the primary, Pawlenty will have to find a way to win over supporters of President Trump, who narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton in the state in 2016, with 45 percent of the vote. Pawlenty called Trump “unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit to be president of the United States” in October 2016, after The Washington Post reported on an “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump could be heard boasting of grabbing women by their genitals. “I am withdrawing my support of him,” Pawlenty said at the time.
In his announcement video, Pawlenty said he would fight against “toxic politics,” improve educational opportunities, work to lower health-care premiums and prevent undocumented immigrants from getting government benefits. “I’ll restore common sense to Minnesota government with an open mind and big ideas,” he said.
There are three Democratic candidates vying for that party’s gubernatorial nomination: state Rep. Erin Murphy, state Auditor Rebecca Otto and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz. The state’s primary will be held Aug. 14.
Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.