GOP candidates free of Coleman's shadow
ST. PAUL -- Norm Coleman joked that he is "free at last, free at last" Monday, hours after he opted out of the Minnesota governor's race.
Other Republican candidates also may have been chanting that refrain on Martin Luther King Jr. Day after complaining that donations and support were harder to find as GOP activists waited to see what Coleman would do.
Late Sunday, Coleman posted a statement to his Facebook page saying that the timing was not right for a candidacy, noting that it is just six months after a grueling U.S. Senate recount and losing court challenge and a couple of weeks before Republican activists begin picking candidates at their Feb. 2 precinct caucuses.
In a Monday interview, Coleman said he is busy preparing his American Action Network to be unveiled. The network is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank and action project.
It promotes issues in the center-right of the American political spectrum.
Coleman, who commutes to Washington four days a week, did not rule out a future run for office.
Coleman's decision changes the looks of the GOP contest.
"It brings clarity to the race," Rep. Marty Seifert said.
Seifert, a state representative from Marshall, was anointed the GOP front-runner in October when he bested a crowded candidate field at a state party convention. However, another state representative and gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer, said Monday that his campaign is gaining momentum faster than any other, and he said he expects financial figures released in a few days to show he raised more December donations than any other candidate.
"Whether Norm got in or got, it doesn't impact us," Emmer said.
Conventional political wisdom was that Emmer, a Delano lawmaker, picked up supporters a week ago when Pat Anderson dropped out of the GOP governor's race to run for state auditor, an office she lost four years ago.
Seifert has not garnered as much of his support from the extreme right as have Anderson and Emmer, and political observers wondered if Coleman's decision could help the Marshall legislator.
"I would expect that I would get a lion's share of them," Seifert said of Coleman supporters.
The Anderson and Coleman decisions do not narrow the race to two people, Seifert said.
Seifert specifically mentioned Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, who has been doing well in straw polls. Others left in the Republican race are former state Rep. Bill Haas of Champlain, businessman Phil Herwig, losing 2009 Minneapolis mayor candidate Robert Carney and environmentalist Leslie Davis.
Delegates to local and state conventions begin to be selected at the Feb. 2 precinct caucuses. Party delegates gather in Minneapolis in April to endorse a governor candidate.
"All of the other (major) candidates are public officials or millionaires," Coleman said, adding that he is not rich.
On the other hand, he said about those on the Republican side, "they don't have any of the negatives" that come with previous hard statewide campaigns.
Other Republican candidates face a name-recognition problem that he would not.
"I think it presents a challenge," he said. "I think they understand that."
Coleman said he is not ready to back a candidate, and may not until after the party endorses someone.
"I will be actively aiding our candidate," Coleman said.
Coleman and his family made the decision that he would not run for governor this weekend.
"I did a lot of listening, a lot of praying," he said. "I was looking for God to give me direction. I didn't see any burning bushes."
That is when he turned to his family.
The one-term senator and two-term St. Paul mayor, who lost the 1998 governor's race, said he hopes to bridge the current partisan gap without being in elective office.