When former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman ended his 2008 election battle last month, he surprised many journalists by answering the inevitable question about whether he would run for governor with a more detailed answer than expected.
Coleman first stated on June 30th that he would leave decisions as to his future plans "to another day," but then revisited the subject later in the press conference by stating he expected to make an announcement shortly after the July 4th weekend ("Sometime next week I presume I'll be talking a little bit about what the future is.").
That proclamation came 26 days ago.
To date, we have no answer and Coleman currently is described by pundits as a "potential candidate" or one who "has not ruled out running."
But the delay by Coleman to provide any resolution on his 2010 plans is not surprising. It is politically shrewd.
If Coleman is at all serious in making another gubernatorial run, there are many strategic reasons for him to put as much space as possible between his failed 2008 Senate reelection bid and the announcement of his 2010 campaign. Coleman has long been tagged with the label of a 'professional politician,' and announcing a run for governor within a few weeks after losing his Senate seat would give the appearance of desperation.
Moreover, Coleman asked a lot of his supporters during the preceding months, raising several millions of dollars during his reelection bid and recount efforts. While few doubt Coleman would be able to fundraise competitively should he run for governor, launching a gubernatorial campaign mere weeks after his Senate bid ended would not be the most prudent way to re-approach donors and kick off a fundraising campaign.
Thirdly, with centrist Republican Jim Ramstad now officially out of the 2010 picture, Coleman can bide his time knowing he would be, by far, the biggest name in the race for the Republican Party endorsement and primary run. Coleman, who legislated as a moderate the last four years of his term in Washington, D.C., also would now have virtually no competition from the left side of the party.
Fourthly, in an effort to shed the 'professional politician' moniker to the greatest extent possible, it is in Coleman's interest to make it seem as if he is being 'recruited' to run for governor. Making a quick announcement mere weeks after the Minnesota Supreme Court decision would give the appearance that Coleman had planned all along to run for governor during the recount as part of a careerist back up plan. Waiting a few months will give Coleman the time to wait and see if any grassroots "Run Norm Run" websites pop up to give more legitimacy to another statewide campaign.
Those are the upsides to waiting. There are, of course, a few downsides.
If Coleman waits too long, he runs the risk that the campaign of one of his potential GOP competitors will catch fire. An earlier entrance by Coleman has a greater chance of "clearing the field."
A late-entry swoop by Coleman also has the potential downside of creating antagonism among the growing field of Republican candidates who would have invested significant time and political capital in their campaigns during the intervening months. But should Coleman run and win, and thus deny the DFL a seat in the Governor's mansion for the sixth consecutive election, almost all will be forgiven.
Coleman's toughest decision, however, is not when to announce, but what to announce. If Coleman fatigue is deeper or lasts longer than supporters of a Coleman gubernatorial campaign suspect, losing a third statewide election in twelve years would likely spell the end of Coleman's political career.
If Coleman wants to hold an elite political office one more time, he thus must decide whether his best dice roll is to run for Governor in 2010, or to seem aloof from the political process during the coming years, and then reemerge to seek a rematch against Senator Al Franken in 2014. (For Coleman will certainly not challenge popular DFLer Amy Klobuchar in 2012).
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