I just spoke with Minnesota Republican Party chairman Tony Sutton, who is faced with an interesting situation: Heading up a state party that could have not one, but two native candidates for president.
Earlier this week, former two-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced that he was forming an exploratory committee. And today, it was reported that Rep. Michele Bachmann, a national star of the Tea Party movement, plans to create an exploratory committee by June if not earlier.
“Well, I think it’s great for Minnesota that we have two people who are, you know, considering runs for the presidency,” said Sutton. “That’s fantastic, an embarrassment of riches for Minnesota.”
Normally, of course, a state party’s activists and elected officials will line up behind a single favorite son or daughter who is in the race. So how might Republican support in Minnesota work out with two native candidates, I asked?
“Well, that’s hard to say right now because both Michele and Tim have, you know, pretty good support here in Minnesota. It would be hard to say how things shake out,” said Sutton. “Pawlenty was governor, which I certainly think would give him a lot of contacts and things like that in the business community. But Michele Bachmann has also been a very prominent member of Congress. It’s really too early to say how things would shake out.”
For his part, Sutton says that he will not be making any endorsement.
“Absolutely not. I am a state party chair. In Minnesota, at least, our political culture is the party chair stays above the fray,” said Sutton. “So that’s not my intention at all. And that’s what the people who elected me state chair expect.”
I asked Sutton whether he would have made an endorsement if only one candidate, Pawlenty or Bachmann, had been in the race, giving Minnesota Republican leaders like himself a clear favorite son or daughter.
“Not necessarily. Our political culture here is a little different,” Sutton replied. “The only time a state party chair endorsed a candidate was in 2008, when the current chair at the time endorsed Huckabee. And there was a complete firestorm among the activists. So when I ran for chair I said I would be neutral, and that’s what they expect.”
He also added: “I think they’ll be very formidable for president. I think on the national stage both will bring strengths in their respective potential candidacies. It won’t just be that we’ll have two Minnesotans running. We’ll have two Minnesotans who are in the top tier.”