MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota’s 2018 Governor’s race is officially underway.

Thousands of Minnesotans attended precinct caucuses Tuesday night, providing first look at how the campaign is shaping up.

On the Democratic side, with 95 percent reporting, U.S. Congressman Tim Walz is leading the pack. State Auditor Rebecca Otto came in second. They’re followed by former Minnesota House Majority Leader Erin Murphy and former Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

Over on the Republican side, with 100 percent reporting, Jeff Johnson won the straw poll by a landslide. That may be because former Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty is seriously considering a comeback bid.

Hours before the caucuses began, former Governor Pawlenty announced he is leaving his high powered lobbying job in Washington in March — plenty of time to mount a comeback bid for governor.

Caucus turnout was light, especially for Republicans — while 27,000 Democrats showed up, only 11,000 Republicans took part.

“The strikingly low turnout among Republicans, among party activists who care most about the party, I think does signal a concern for Republicans going into 2018,” University of Minnesota professor Kathryn Pearson.

“Undecided” came in second place for Republicans. That’s a possible place holder for Pawlenty, who won’t confirm he’s running for a third term in office, but previously said he’s not ruling it out, either.

“In life, you never say never, because things can change,” Pawlenty said in October. “But I’m politically retired.”

The former governor said Wednesday he has “nothing to add to those statements, and won’t be addressing any of this further beyond that for awhile.”

Until he decides, Pawlenty is casting a big shadow, bringing pluses and minuses to the Republican race.

“He has many benefits,” Pearson said. “He has many Minnesotans who voted for him already, even twice. On the other hand, a lot has happened in the last eight years.”

The caucuses already yielded one high profile casualty — former DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen dropped out of the governor’s race after a disappointing showing.

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