ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants his two would-be successors to informally begin the transition into the state's top spot, but he also promises to remain in office as long as needed.
If the Mark Dayton-Tom Emmer governor's race goes through a recount, and maybe a court challenge, there may not be a new governor in place when Pawlenty is supposed to leave office Jan. 3.
"It is my belief and hope we can be done by then," the Republican governor said Thursday, adding that the constitution requires him to remain in office until a new governor is certified.
Pawlenty said he would remain on board to do what is needed, but did not sound like he would take the initiative on issues. However, he did not rule out signing bills a newly Republican-controlled Legislature passes before Democrat Dayton could take office.
"We will be addressing those things that need to be addressed," he said.
Several times during a Thursday afternoon meeting with reporters, Pawlenty said he does not want to stick around after Jan. 3. "I genuinely hope it does not become necessary."
He said that remaining in office should not prevent him from taking an already-planned tour to promote his newly written book. He refused to answer a question about whether a longer tenure could delay the expected announcement that he is running for president.
Pawlenty also said his administration will be ready to submit a budget proposal to lawmakers if the governor's contest stretches out that long. The budget is due Feb. 15.
The governor plans to meet with Dayton and Emmer separately next week and suggest that each prepare an informal transition team.
"We have heard from the voters," he said. "We just don't know what they said."
Dayton held an 8,779 lead over Republican Emmer Thursday as changes began to trickle in while local elections officials compare vote returns with what they reported to the secretary of state's office late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
A lead the size of Dayton's has not been overturned in a Minnesota recount. To put it in perspective, the 2008 U.S. Senate recount and court case between Norm Coleman and Al Franken resulted in a bit more than a 1,000-vote switch.
Much of the 2008 change came on absentee ballot mistakes, but laws passed since then were designed to make absentees easier to use. Only about 3,000 absentee ballots were rejected this year, a quarter of those rejected two years ago.
Still, Minnesota Republican Chairman Tony Sutton said that the party will "look under every stone" to find Emmer votes.
On Wednesday, Dayton refused to declare victory, but on Thursday it sounded a lot like he won when he posted a message on his Facebook page: "Thanks to you, we received 8,856 more votes than any other candidate. In a democracy, that means we won the election! I am very confident that after the proper canvassing procedures, our win will be made official. Then we can go to work for the people of Minnesota!"
Emmer has remained out of the public sight since making brief comments to a Republican post-election gathering early Wednesday.
Minnesota Republican Party leaders begged supporters to report any voting irregularities as they prepare for a governor's race recount and possible court challenge.
In an e-mail the party sent to members Thursday, the GOP asked to hear about voting problems such as absentee ballot voting problems, buses arriving at polling places, voting machine malfunctions, ballots sitting unsecured, people with more than one ballot and unauthorized people assisting voters.
Republican leaders also asked supporters to make sure their absentee ballots were counted by checking on the secretary of state's Web site.
In the next two weeks, local elections officials will double-check returns they submitted to the secretary of state's office. That likely will cause the votes to change frequently.
On Nov. 23, the state Canvassing Board meets and if it decides differences between the two candidates remains within 0.5 percent, a recount will be ordered.
That recount could last for weeks, and a court challenge could keep the election unresolved into January or beyond. The 2008 recount and court case was settled June 30, 2009.
Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.