Minnesota Republicans will have to try to win a statewide election without the man who last succeeded at it in 2006. After several weeks of speculation, former governor and presidential aspirant Tim Pawlenty told Fox’s Neil Cavuto ruled out any run for office in 2018, including the special election to fill the rest of Al Franken’s Senate term. That leaves the field open for Karin Housely, but might dim prospects for a national spotlight on the race:

Yesterday, the Star Tribune noted that the prospects looked dim for a Pawlenty run but not entirely non-existent:

The Washington Post on Sunday quoted a prominent GOP donor as saying rumors that he would jump into the race are unfounded. “He’s told me unequivocally he’s not going to run for the Senate,” the donor told the Post.

A Minnesota GOP insider who is close to Pawlenty confirmed to the Star Tribune Sunday that Pawlenty did indeed make that comment at a meeting two weeks ago. But the source told the Star Tribune that it’s possible Pawlenty has reconsidered since then. The source was not sure where Pawlenty stands now.

Pawlenty is also known to be considering another run for governor, and that prospect remains on the table. He did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.

Governor? Hmmm. Note that Pawlenty’s answer is very specific to the US Senate race. Minnesota does not have term limits, so Pawlenty is free to run for a third term in the race to replace outgoing governor Mark Dayton. If he plans to run for that office, though, the same time pressures apply that Pawlenty cites in his interview with a clearly surprised Cavuto, or perhaps even more so. The caucuses will take place on February 6th to compete for the party endorsement. Pawlenty could just run in the primary against the GOP’s endorsed candidate, but the ill will that would generate could hobble a statewide campaign — and Republicans have enough trouble winning those as it is.

The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin sees the possibility of a long-range strategy:

That doesn’t make too much sense, at least not in Minnesota. A presidential cycle turnout will be less friendly for a Republican than a midterm turnout model, even with the partisan pressures on this particular cycle. Running in 2020 would mean going up against an incumbent, which is always tricky, in a cycle where Democrats will need to defend far fewer Senate seats.

In this case, “no” appears to mean “no,” and given the timing involved, probably means for both races unless Pawlenty makes some sort of announcement this week. Expect Minnesota Republicans to line up hard for Housely after today, if they hadn’t before this.