Republican Tim Pawlenty announces run for Minnesota governor

Key Points
  • Republican Tim Pawlenty officially announced his run for governor of Minnesota.
  • CNBC reported earlier in the day that Pawlenty's announcement would happen Thursday afternoon.
  • Pawlenty, who had already served two terms as Minnesota's governor, will be trying to flip a seat that's been held by Democratic incumbent Mark Dayton for the past seven years.
Tim Pawlenty
Scott Eells | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Republican Tim Pawlenty officially declared his candidacy for Minnesota governor Thursday, making him the latest high-profile business executive to make a push for political office.

CNBC, citing sources with direct knowledge of the matter, reported earlier Thursday that Pawlenty would announce his run in the afternoon.

Pawlenty, who had already served two terms as Minnesota's governor, will be trying to flip a seat that's been held by Democratic incumbent Mark Dayton for the past seven years. Dayton isn't running for a third term. However, Dayton did respond to Pawlenty's candidacy by comparing his legacy to the Republican's.

"I'll match my record as Governor against his any day," Dayton said in a statement sent to CNBC.

Pawlenty, meanwhile, said that he is running because he believes "Minnesotans deserve better."

"My campaign for governor will focus on charting a better way forward for Minnesota families who see health care premiums skyrocketing, paychecks not increasing very fast, college costs and student debt rising — all while government spending and taxes climb through the roof," Pawlenty said in his announcement statement.

In February, Pawlenty resigned his role as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, a powerful lobbying organization that works with some of the top Wall Street banks. Pawlenty was widely expected to run in the Minnesota race.

The former 2012 GOP presidential candidate brings years of political experience, name recognition and a potential donor war chest to a governor's race that has only a few declared candidates, many of them from the state legislature.

Immediately after Pawlenty's announcement, nonpartisan elections analysis website Sabato's Crystal Ball changed the status of the Minnesota gubernatorial race from "leans Democratic" to "toss-up."

"Pawlenty is a serious enough candidate to move the needle, at least for now," Kyle Kondik, managing editor for the site, tweeted.

Pawlenty previously was governor of the state from 2003 to 2011. Although he failed to capture the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, he became a co-chairman of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign against then-President Barack Obama.

Pawlenty then went on to lead the roundtable, whose members include American Express, Citigroup and Wells Fargo. He resigned from the post in February as rumors swirled that he would be going back to running for public office.

However, his ties to Wall Street are already coming under fire from those within his own state.

Before Pawlenty officially announced on Thursday, Ken Martin, chairman of the liberal Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, came out with a blistering statement against his upcoming declaration.

"Minnesota needs a governor who will fight for everyday families. That's not Tim Pawlenty," Martin said in a statement provided to CNBC. "We need an honest leader who will fight to build a better Minnesota—not a Wall Street lobbyist who cares more about the wealthy than everyday families," Martin added.

After the announcement, the Democratic Governors Association attacked Pawlenty over his previous tenure as governor.

"Between the disastrous policies coming from Washington and his terrible record as governor, Tim Pawlenty has absolutely nothing to run on," said a statement from the group.

Big potential war chest

Pawlenty had the financial backing from powerful business leaders when he ran for president, and they may be following his lead this time around, too.

His campaign committee raised $5 million during the 2012 campaign, including a $10,000 contribution from former Target executive John Griffith and $45,000 from the American Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy group which focuses on policies that lean to the right of the political spectrum.

Republicans will likely celebrate Pawlenty's candidacy as they have been craving a candidate they can hang their platform on without having to worry about an anti-establishment message.

"Pawlenty is a huge addition to the Republican efforts across the map this fall. Specifically in Minnesota, Pawlenty's entrance to the race is the type of game changer Republicans need," one Republican strategist told CNBC on the condition of anonymity.

"Pawlenty is not only experienced and has a very good image with voters across the ideological spectrum, he's also demonstrated a level of confidence that most voters are looking for this fall and it's exactly the type of thing Republicans want in every ticket in every state," the strategist added.

Jon Thompson, spokesman for the Republican Governors' Association, called Pawlenty's candidacy a "game changer."

"Despite talk of a blue wave, Republicans are in strong position to win numerous blue state governorships this fall," Thompson said.