Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced this afternoon that he will not seek a third term as Governor. Not only does his decision create the 19th open gubernatorial contest of the 2010 cycle, but it has added fuel to the speculation that Pawlenty is gearing up to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

If Pawlenty had opted to run for re-election, he would have been a slight favorite, but it would have been a competitive race that Republicans could not take for granted. Now that the seat is open, it is a toss up.

A long line of Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls has been forming for months. State Sen. Tom Bakk, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former state House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, former state Sen. and 2006 gubernatorial candidate Steve Kelley, state Sen. and 1994 gubernatorial nominee John Marty, and state Rep. Paul Thissen have all formed exploratory committees and started raising money for the race.

There isn’t an obvious frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Former Rep. Jim Ramstad has been mentioned and would be

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