Pawlenty prepared to stay on as governor if there is a recountUPDATED 2:33 P.M.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he is prepared to extend his term as governor if a recount in the race to replace him drags into the new year.
By: Brian Bakst, Associated Press
ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty didn't face voters this year, but a no-decision in the race to replace him could buy him a longer stay in the state's top job — something that cuts both ways for the possible Republican presidential candidate.
Pawlenty said today that he'll keep the post as long as it takes to certify a winner in the race between Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer, which appears bound for a statewide recount given Dayton's slim lead.
"Any of my personal plans or concerns are secondary to the fact I have a duty and responsibility to fulfill under the constitution," Pawlenty told The Associated Press in an interview. "I'm not going to walk away from that."
A full-fledged White House bid may have to wait. The ugly task of eliminating a projected $6 billion budget deficit could fall in his lap. But Pawlenty would also keep a visible perch to rail against spending — and push back harder against President Barack Obama's health care law.
A deal Pawlenty brokered with Democrats in May gave the next governor until Jan. 15 to decide whether to accept more than $1 billion tied to the federal health law in exchange for expanded state coverage for the poor. Pawlenty balked at the money, which Dayton said he'd take in a heartbeat.
It's not clear how long the recount, and possible litigation, will last. Minnesota's 2008 U.S. Senate race was decided for Democrat Al Franken seven months after the election, but changes to absentee ballot handling since then and simply having been through it once before could make a repeat go faster.
In nearly complete returns, Dayton led Emmer by about 9,000 votes of 2.1 million cast. The difference of less than half a percentage point was within the bounds of an automatic recount, although figures could still shift as local and state officials reconcile their tallies.
With redistricting and control of the state's finances in the balance, there was little incentive for either man to concede. Emmer issued a quick statement this morning making clear he would pursue a recount.
Dayton said at a news conference that it would be presumptive to declare victory, and a recount was appropriate. Asked whether Minnesota was in for a repeat of the 2008 recount and ensuing litigation, he said: "I don't think the people of Minnesota will stand for it. And they shouldn't."
Democrats said they were concerned that Pawlenty, working with new GOP majorities in the Legislature, would rush through laws that a Gov. Dayton wouldn't support.
"I certainly wouldn't put it past them," said Rep. John Lesch, a St. Paul Democrat.
Pawlenty downplayed the prospect of lame-duck lawmaking.
"We just have to discourage people from getting ahead of themselves about speculating," Pawlenty said. "This has to be done in proper order in a measured and appropriate way."
Pawlenty was due to leave office in early January and has a release date set for his book "Courage to Stand" about a week later. He has said previously he'd decide on a presidential run by March. He declined to say how the extra stint would affect his announcement on a 2012 bid.
Since announcing 18 months ago that he wouldn't try for a third term, Pawlenty has been on the move. He has traveled to more than half the states and spent multiple days each in Iowa and New Hampshire, key states for a presidential candidate.
Unlike the 2008 Senate seat, Minnesota's constitution doesn't allow for the governor's office to be vacant. Technically, Pawlenty could resign and his lieutenant governor would take over, but he said he won't do that.
Republicans promised an aggressive fight to retain the office they've had for the last eight years, hiring attorney Michael Toner to aid in a recount. Toner has also done work for Pawlenty's national political action committee.
Associated Press writer Martiga Lohn contributed to this report.