Most Minnesota counties have by now finished their review and certification of all ballots cast in the 2010 General Election. The vote totals remain unchanged from yesterday with Dayton (D) still leading Emmer (R) by 8,755 votes. County Canvassing Boards are required by MN Statute 204C.33 to meet between the third and tenth days following a general election. The tenth and final day of alloted County Canvassing time would be tomorrow, Friday the 12th. After this point, the results will essentially be frozen until the State Canvassing Board reviews each County's tally at their mandated meeting on November 23, 2010. At this State Canvassing Board Meeting, they will vote to certify the statewide election results as reported by each of Minnesota's 87 County Canvassing Boards. Once the aggregate total is certified, the margin is determined and a statutory recount is triggered if the percent difference between the two leading candidates is less than one half of one percent.
An automatic recount is likely to be triggered given the current margin, and Emmer is likely to be the trailing candidate. The trailing candidate has the option of waiving the recount, but the Emmer campaign has indicated that they will do no such thing. The recount will then be carried out with an intended completion date of December 14, 2010. At this point either candidate would obviously prefer to be ahead, but for the State Republican Party it really doesn't matter. They will control the State Legislature, for the first time in 38 years and can control the Governorship until any election contest is judicially finalized. The Republican Party could completely control the law making process in Minnesota for the duration of the election contest process.
If the Republican Party chooses to use the election contest process as a political tactic, to further their own agenda, they open themselves up to political backlash. If they choose to contest the recount result, they must walk a fine line between political theatre and plausible, tangible results. If the election contest becomes too political, there would likely be ramifications for the party, in the 2012 election and for Governor Tim Pawlenty as a potential Presidential candidate.
The Republican Party will probably get wiped out, at least in Minnesota, in the 2012 election regardless of what they do; thus, the party has a difficult political choice to make. Do they either proceed with a hard line agenda and accept likely defeat (although they would never acknowledge that second part) or do they attempt to moderate their positions and attempt to retain power for years to come? The hard line agenda would involve postponing the election result for as long as possible while the moderated position could still involve an election contest, but it would need to directly address tangible issues. I personally believe that Republican legislators will pursue a hard conservative agenda for as long as they can with the false understanding that their actions will promote their re-election in 2012. Voter turnout in the Minnesota 2012 Presidential Election will probably be around 75%, and for a state as blue as Minnesota, there are simply not enough Republican voters to hold the legislature.
Tim Pawlenty may be on the 2012 ticket as a Presidential Candidate, but in order for that to happen he will have to proactively construct his national image. The first step in affecting his portrayal could revolve around his potentially extended term as Governor. If the MN Republican Party adopts the scorched earth policy as I just outlined, Pawlenty may want to distance himself or associate himself with his party's actions. It all depends upon how he wants to be portrayed. He may want to move to the right for the Republican Primary or he may want to moderate himself in an attempt to appeal to swing states. He may need to win Minnesota he may not, although his poll numbers in the state aren't great. I don't know how any of these decisions will go, but he will need to make them; his conduct as interim Governor will go a long way in determining his Presidential aspirations.
One thing Pawlenty does have at his disposal, for publicly moderating his positions, is Article IV, Sec. 23 of the Minnesota Constitution:
Sec. 23. APPROVAL OF BILLS BY GOVERNOR; ACTION ON VETO. Every bill passed in conformity to the rules of each house and the joint rules of the two houses shall be presented to the governor. If he approves a bill, he shall sign it, deposit it in the office of the secretary of state and notify the house in which it originated of that fact. If he vetoes a bill, he shall return it with his objections to the house in which it originated. His objections shall be entered in the journal. If, after reconsideration, two-thirds of that house agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the governor's objections, to the other house, which shall likewise reconsider it. If approved by two-thirds of that house it becomes a law and shall be deposited in the office of the secretary of state. In such cases the votes of both houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for or against the bill shall be entered in the journal of each house. Any bill not returned by the governor within three days (Sundays excepted) after it is presented to him becomes a law as if he had signed it, unless the legislature by adjournment within that time prevents its return. Any bill passed during the last three days of a session may be presented to the governor during the three days following the day of final adjournment and becomes law if the governor signs and deposits it in the office of the secretary of state within 14 days after the adjournment of the legislature. Any bill passed during the last three days of the session which is not signed and deposited within 14 days after adjournment does not become a law.
Source: Article IV of the Minnesota Constitution
As acting Governor he could passively allow any passed bills to become law by essentially doing nothing. If a bill is reconciled and passed by both chambers of the MN legislature, it will become law after three days (Sundays excepted) if he does not proactively veto the bill. He could make some public statement saying he will not sign any bill into law while he is serving as interim Governor. During that time, bills could still become law, but he would have kept his word and not actually signed any bill.
The Minnesota Republican Party controls their own destiny, but they must remember that with great power comes great responsibility. If they implode, they can and hopefully will be held solely responsible, and responsibility is not a good thing in a state that historically opposes their agenda.