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Lt. Gov. Tina Smith won't run for governor in 2018

Undated courtesy photo, circa Jan. 2017, of Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, Minnesota's 48th Lt. Governor. This is her official portrait. Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Mark Dayton & Lt. Governor Tina Smith.

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, long thought to be positioning herself to take over when Gov. Mark Dayton leaves office, said she has decided to pass on a gubernatorial bid.

"After careful consideration, and many conversations with family and friends, I have decided not to run for Governor in 2018," the Democrat said in a statement on Friday, March 17.

Smith, who has made a career of working behind the scenes in Minnesota politics, was catapulted into the spotlight in 2014 when Dayton announced she was his pick as running mate for his second term. Since then, she has had a more public profile than many lieutenant governors past.

The former Dayton chief of staff, who ran former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's campaign in 2010 when Dayton first ran, has traveled the state and taken on key issues as part of her portfolio. Her name appears in equal measure with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor's on the state's letterhead.

She told the Pioneer Press that she had thought hard about whether to run in recent months, and decided that if she ran, she would have a path to victory.

"It would be difficult, but everybody's path is difficult. It's not easy to get elected governor," Smith said. But she said she assessed whether she wanted to run since "just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should do something."

She said she realized that she would rather make a contribution to the public good in a different way. Smith, a Minneapolis resident, said she was comfortable in the public role she has taken on since Dayton tapped her to run with him three years ago and believes that relationship-building, not geography, will help the next governor win.

"The next governor of Minnesota, and I will do everything I can to make sure that person is a Democrat, has got to be able to connect with people about basic, bread-and-butter, economic issues. And you don't have to be a Greater Minnesota person or a metro person to do that," she said. "You have to be able to build a relationship with about a million people."

Smith said she made her decision about a week ago and informed the governor, who has been a vocal Smith supporter, of her decision before it became public.

"I think he responded like the great friend that he is, which is 'I want you to do what is going to make you happy and whatever you decide to do, I'm 100 percent supportive of,' and that was kind of it," she said.

The 2018 field of gubernatorial candidates will likely still be large. Democrats including St. Paul Rep. Erin Murphy, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and State Auditor Rebecca Otto have announced they are running. The only Republican who has announced a run is Christopher William Chamberlin, an activist. But many more Republicans and Democrats have said they are considering runs or they are not saying no to possible bids when asked.

Smith said now that her decision is public, it relieves her of the constant speculation whirling around her actions.

"I will be glad that people won't look at what I do and wonder why I'm doing it. I'll be able to do it because it's what the governor and I believe is the right thing to do for the state of Minnesota," she said. "And that will be welcome."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.