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Minnesota GOP split on Pawlenty future

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ROCHESTER, Minn. - Memo to Tim Pawlenty: Minnesota Republicans wish you would remain governor, but if you find yourself being offered a position in a McCain administration, they still would support you.

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Delegates to the state Republican convention in Rochester, which ended a two-day run Saturday, were conflicted with the prospect that GOP presidential candidate John McCain might pick the Minnesota governor as his running mate.

Rock County's C. Wendell Erickson is a good example. The delegate said Pawlenty is a strong leader and would be a good vice presidential pick, but said his loss would be difficult for Minnesota.

"I guess he's going to be hard to be replaced," Erickson said.

But Erickson, of Hills, said nobody should expect Pawlenty to reject a vice presidential bid.

"Anybody that has the opportunity to be vice president isn't going to turn it down," he said.

However, Pawlenty said that he has no idea if he is in the running mate running. And, he told reporters pressing about his vice presidential chances Saturday, he has not discussed the matter with McCain or his aides.

The 47-year-old governor refused say if he would accept the vice presidential spot or any position in a McCain administration.

"I think it is just speculation," Pawlenty said. "People like to talk about it, but it is just pure and raw speculation."

For months, he said such talk was speculation of the Minnesota media, but he no longer blames Minnesota reporters now that national political reporters and columnists are talking about him. U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., fueled the speculation Friday when he said Pawlenty would be good for McCain and the country.

McCain plans a June 19 Minnesota visit, but Pawlenty did not say if he expected to talk to the candidate about the No. 2 spot then.

"Any time you have a Minnesotan who is in a position to lead and engage in public service, I think that is a good thing," Pawlenty said. "But I think I can do that and have done that as governor."

Many convention delegates agreed that Pawlenty is leading the state well.

"I am a little selfish," Chris Hamness of Roseau said. "I would like to keep him as governor of the state."

Hamness, the Roseau County Republican chairman, said Pawlenty is a good governor, in part, because he does not always abide by the party line.

Some political observers question whether Pawlenty could deliver Minnesota to McCain, but Hamness said there is no doubt Pawlenty could bring the state's votes with him.

"It's the Grand Forks and the Roseaus who put him in" the governor's office, Hamness said, and the same would happen if McCain picks Pawlenty.

Mark Hintermeyer of Moorhead did not start out as a Pawlenty supporter. He backed Brian Sullivan in the 2002 state GOP convention, but switched after the 13th ballot, helping put Pawlenty over the top.

Since then, however, Hintermeyer said, he has got to know Pawlenty and likes his work.

"It would be mixed feelings," he said about the chances of Pawlenty being vice president. "I like him as the governor."

It helps that Pawlenty visits often Moorhead, said Hintermeyer, a Moorhead City Council member.

If Pawlenty leaves his job, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau would replace him. She was under fire until the Senate fired her as state transportation commissioner, but Hintermeyer and some other delegates did not want to say how they thought she would do as governor. "I'd rather not comment on that."

Rollie Nissen of Willmar, co-chairman of the Kandiyohi County GOP, said he prefers that Pawlenty stay in Minnesota.

Still, Nissen said, he knows Pawlenty is important on the national level.

"Pawlenty certainly is a strong and rising star in the Republican Party," he said. "If it happens to be Minnesota, that's fine; if it happens to be in Washington, that's fine."

Some convention delegates leaned toward encouraging Pawlenty to jump at a vice presidential opportunity.

"I'm hoping that he goes for vice president if asked," said Kath Molitor, a Beltrami County Republican Party leader, said of Pawlenty.

Molitor, a Bemidji resident, said Pawlenty is appealing because of his qualities, his strong beliefs and "he doesn't give up" in fighting for his positions.

A Pawlenty vice presidency would be good for Minnesota, said Andru Peters of Goodhue County.

"He becomes a senior leader in D.C.," Peters said. "That could be better than being in the state."

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