Tim Pawlenty and Michelle Fischbach

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and current Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach speak during a press conference Monday at the Mankato Regional Airport. Photo by Pat Christman

MANKATO — Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty toured the state Monday to hit hard against his potential DFL rivals and make his case to get re-elected as Minnesota's governor this November.

Pawlenty's campaign stopped in Mankato, Rochester, Moorhead, Duluth and St. Paul to tout the differences between himself, state Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-1st District.

He sought to paint Murphy and Walz as far-left candidates who are out of touch with what he sees as the state's priorities — tax relief for the middle class, health care reform, and stronger vocational training to improve the state's workforce, among other things.

"The Democrats are off the deep end," Pawlenty said. "They've really taken wacky positions as it relates to those issues."

The former governor highlighted his running mate, Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, as a champion of rural values during her 22 years in the Senate and an experienced voice on higher education.

Pawlenty and Fischbach also highlighted their support for stringent immigration enforcement, medical care price transparency, and moving Minnesota away from Affordable Care Act-related provisions toward a more private health insurance market. Pawlenty emphasized his support for repealing the state's taxes on Social Security benefits, as Minnesota is one of only a few states to do so.

Pawlenty's tour comes as DFL candidates jockey for position entering the state's Aug. 14 primary after a political convention weekend where Murphy captured the DFL endorsement and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson was endorsed by the GOP.

Pawlenty downplayed Johnson's endorsement and touted the role of the state's primary as the way for Minnesota Republicans to make their voices heard.

He also made it clear his signature promise not to raise taxes during his first two terms as governor won't be in place if he secures a third term. Pawlenty said he is refusing to sign any pledges or make any promises to special interests during the race, which he claims will make him the only candidate to do so this election season.

"We've got the seasoned experience and the strength to be be bold and take a lot of risks to get things done," Pawlenty said. "And I think that is going to help overcome some of, if not much of the toxic nature of today's politics."

He did say tax relief would be a priority if he and Fischbach were elected.

The duo also tried to position themselves as unifiers who could address the state's needs.

"There are a lot of things that are facing all Minnesotans," Fischbach said. "You're talking about day care, you're talking about pricing, taxes in general ... and if their kids are going to succeed in school. Those are the kinds of things where we can bridge that gap between rural and metro."

On the other side of the political aisle, the DFL primary is garnering attention as Democratic candidates bounce in and out of their respective races.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto suspended her gubernatorial campaign on Monday. Otto was eliminated from the DFL's endorsement race after the second ballot Saturday.

Attorney General Lori Swanson jumped into the race Monday afternoon with retiring U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-8th District, as her lieutenant governor pick. Her campaign for governor leaves the state's attorney general job open. Several prominent Democrats — from former Attorney General Mike Hatch to former state Rep. Ryan Winkler to potentially even U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota — may want the job.

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