Reuters

(Reuters) - Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty on Thursday said he would run this year for another term, shaking up a competitive race and boosting chances the state's leadership could turn Republican.

 

Pawlenty, a business executive who waged an unsuccessful bid for president in 2012, previously served two terms as Minnesota governor from 2003 until 2011.

 

He was the last Republican to win Minnesota's governorship and is seeking to replace Democrat Mark Dayton, who is retiring after holding the seat since 2011.

 

"My top priority will be to put those in the middle - who are working hard and getting squeezed - first," Pawlenty said in a statement.

 

Elections analysis website Sabato's Crystal Ball changed its status for the Minnesota gubernatorial race to "toss-up" from "leans Democratic" after Pawlenty's announcement.

 

Pawlenty resigned in February as head of the Financial Services Roundtable, a lobbying organization that works with Wall Street banks, and was widely expected to run in the race.

Pawlenty's ties to Wall Street and past record as governor drew fire from Democrats.

"Between the disastrous policies coming from Washington and his terrible record as governor, Tim Pawlenty has absolutely nothing to run on," said a statement from the Democratic Governors Association.

He will face several Republican primary challengers, including Jeff Johnson, commissioner of Hennepin County.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Tom Brown)