ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty will not be around for a third term, but today promised to remain active as the state's chief executive.
"This is not a wake," the 48-year-old governor said in announcing he would step down after his second four-year term ends early in 2011.
Pawlenty said he has not thought about what his next political step may be, although Republicans across the country like him as a potential presidential contender.
"I still have lots of energy and ideas," Pawlenty said to a packed news conference. "But being governor should not be a permanent position for someone. When it comes to how long someone should stay in an elected position, a little less is better than too much."
Republicans were not happy to see him leave, but said his early announcement - well before the November 2010 election - means candidates of both parties have time to launch campaigns.
"It is the dawn of a new day," Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said.
Most attention during the 45-minute news conference was on any presidential ambitions.
Pawlenty said he will focus on the 19 months he has remaining in office. "Beyond that, I don't have any plans."
However, he would not say "no" to national political plans.
"I am not ruling anything in our out," he said.
Pawlenty, who said he made the decision within the last 10 days, said he could have won a third four-year term, something no governor has accomplished. He rattled off poll numbers to prove his point.
While promising to work hard during his remaining time in office, Pawlenty said he also will be available for Republicans on the national scene.
"The Republican party in the Midwest and nationally needs to do better," he said.
The Atlantic Online today reported that Pawlenty's departure looks familiar.
"Pawlenty's 2012 path mirrors the model that then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took in 2006, when he decided that he'd rather go up -- to the presidency -- or out -- meaning that he would retire from political life rather than run for re-election," the Atlantic reported.
This afternoon's news conference is to be in the governor's reception room in the Capitol, which all but rules out an announcement for re-election or other political office. He generally refuses to answer obvious political questions in his office and never holds a political announcement there.
Long-time Pawlenty friend Charlie Weaver said he would not be surprised to see his former University of Minnesota law school classmate run for president or vice president. The two have talked about the possibility.
"I think he is open to it," Weaver said. "He probably will explore it."
Weaver, who was Pawlenty's first chief of staff, said Pawlenty has done a good job for Minnesota.
"I think he will go down as one of the greatest governors that the state has ever had."
Weaver said the sky is the limit for Pawlenty's future.
"I think he has got lots of options," Weaver said. "He is a very smart guy with a terrific background who can really do anything he wants. Eight years in any job as job for someone as talented as he is a pretty long time."
A dozen or so Democrats stand ready to run to replace Pawlenty - and some already have begun. But no Republicans have announced an interest in the office, waiting to see what Pawlenty will do.
Among those most often mentioned as potential GOP governor candidates are former State Auditor Pat Anderson, state Rep. Laura Broad, former House Speaker Steve Sviggum, state Sen. Goeff Michel, Sen. David Hann, Rep. Paul Kohls and one-time governor candidate Brian Sullivan.
More than a dozen Democrats have announced or are thought to be considering running for governor next year.
The biggest Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party names include House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Last year, Pawlenty ended up finishing second to Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain's vice presidential pick.
Pawlenty has been able to survive despite obstacles.
For instance, on Oct. 11, 2002, Pawlenty appeared at a Capitol news conference in front of reporters asking questions such as whether he would drop out of his first governor's race a month before the election after a state board ruled Pawlenty's campaign and the Republican Party violated state law that forbids the party and candidate from working together on commercials funded by the party.
Pawlenty did his best damage control, trying to turn the problem into a plus.
"Integrity is really important to me, so this whole situation angers me, it frustrates me and it gives me a lot of personal pain," he said. "But a strong leader takes responsibility."
A few months after taking office, he admitted to accepting $4,500 a month for legal services while running for governor. He never publicly mentioned his legal contract, with a long-time friend, while campaigning. And as one of three directors of NewTel Holdings, he said he did not know a subsidiary was receiving thousands of customer complaints, such as switching long distance services without permission and charging too much.
Opponents argued Pawlenty was tight with other Republicans in the telecommunications business and they looked out for themselves more than their customers.
During a lengthy meeting with reporters on the issues, the governor left mostly unanswered questions about why he did not tell the public about his consulting job and telecommunications connections while campaigning.
"I did not view them as being wildly substantial," he said.
Pawlenty's personal story has been told often, especially bloggers and reporters tried to introduce him to the American public as a potential national candidate. He grew up in a South St. Paul working-class family, near what was then a major stockyard.
He became the first from his family to get a college education, despite his mother dying when the future governor was a teenager and his father losing his trucking job the same year.
He earned his bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus and worked in a private law practice. He was elected to the Eagan City Council, then served 10 years in the Minnesota House before running for governor in 2002.
Pawlenty faced a tough challenge for the GOP nomination in that first race, fighting well-known businessman Sullivan until 4 a.m. at the party's convention before winning enough votes for the party's endorsement.
Two words explained why Pawlenty won the party's backing: "Experience and leadership," said Diane Vlach, at the time co-chairwoman of the Kandiyohi County Republicans.
He based his campaigns on leadership.
"There is a value to having public service experience," Pawlenty said. "I have enough to know what I am talking about, but not so much that I am stuck in the past."
Pawlenty won each the 2002 and 2006 elections with less than 50 percent of the vote. He appeared to be trailing going into the final weekend of the 2006 race, winning only after challenger Attorney General Mike Hatch showed his famous temper.
In his typical smooth manner, Pawlenty acknowledged Democratic gains across Minnesota and the United States two years ago, and said his victory provided an opportunity to be grateful.
"We also have to realize the country's divided, and we need to come together," Pawlenty said.
The Republican began his first term well-liked even by Democrats, but some who liked his personality at the time have since grown tired of Pawlenty, saying his refusal to raise taxes is wrong.
To win enough conservatives to his side in 2002, Pawlenty signed a pledge promising not to raise taxes. Even as that helped him win conservatives, it has been a problem.
"As governor, he has balanced Minnesota's budget three times without raising taxes, despite facing record budget deficits," the governor's state Web site proclaimed.
But what it does not say is he was forced to bend that promise in 2005, when a partial state government shutdown convinced him to slap a "health impact fee" onto tobacco products, basically raising the existing cigarette tax.
As governor, one of Pawlenty's favorite phrases has been "nation-leading," when referring to any number of areas where Minnesota is atop national rankings. For instance, he likes to tout the state's leadership in homeownership, its good health ratings and high education levels.
In the past year, Pawlenty has been a regular on national television news programs.