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Vikings, Twins happy to see Pawlenty win election
by Kevin Seifert and Dennis Brackin

The Vikings and Twins were encouraged Wednesday by the election of Tim Pawlenty as Minnesota's next governor, saying they believe he will give them a fair opportunity to secure public financing for their stadium projects.

Pawlenty visited Vikings training camp in Mankato this summer, and has acknowledged his interest in returning the Gophers football team to campus -- conceivably in a stadium shared with the Vikings. He has also expressed interest in expanding the 2002 Twins stadium bill to allow Hennepin County's involvement.

"I know Tim well enough to know that he will give us a fair hearing and will be responsible to deal with," said Mike Kelly, Vikings' executive vice president. "But I also know he will be very tough and will represent the citizens of Minnesota well in any negotiations. I'm encouraged by [the election results] because he has indicated this is an issue that needs to be addressed, and he's willing to consider responsible solutions."

When asked in an interview two years ago about Kelly's quest to win stadium approval, Pawlenty chuckled and said: "for his sake, I hope he's on salary and not commission." That sentiment, however, came during a different political climate, the Vikings hope. Kelly pointed toward the role that the publicly financed Xcel Energy Center played in Norm Coleman's successful U.S. Senate campaign.

"He used that as a campaign issue," Kelly said, "which was the first time in my recollection that the development of an athletic facility was used positively in a political race. . . . We're really encouraged by Norm getting elected, because in a way it really changes how this issue is cast. If anyone was vulnerable on stadium issues, it was Norm Coleman. But rather than get attacked on the issue, he was praised for the work he did."

Twins officials, meanwhile, also were optimistic that the election results would enhance their hopes of getting a new stadium. Then again, the Twins would have been optimistic no matter who won Tuesday, because all three leading candidates for governor -- Pawlenty, Roger Moe and Tim Penny -- indicated they favored a new baseball stadium.

"I couldn't quote [Pawlenty] specifically, but during the campaign he was asked about [the stadium issue] a couple times, and he said it would be an issue he supported," Twins President Jerry Bell said. "He didn't say how, or anything like that, but we're optimistic."

Mostly, Twins officials are optimistic about Pawlenty's public stance that he would support allowing Hennepin County, excluded from the 2002 stadium law, to sponsor a stadium plan. The 2002 version proved unworkable, at least partly because Minneapolis was handcuffed in coming up with a plan because Hennepin County was kept out of the process.

The bill gave St. Paul an open shot at the stadium, but Twins owner Carl Pohlad rejected the city's bid. St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly offered the Twins a partnership in a downtown stadium that would have been funded mostly with a city tax on liquor, restaurant tabs and game-day parking.

Bell said the passage of the last year's legislation established public funding policy that the Twins had been seeking.

"I think our approach this year is going to be that we got halfway last year, but not all the way," Bell said. "We'll be looking at some refinements, probably in the form of amendments to the bill."

Those refinements, Bell said, will include making Hennepin County -- and ultimately Minneapolis -- part of the process.

Bell said the Twins would begin internal meetings to formulate a strategy, and planned to have a plan in place by the first of the year.