The registration of possible domain names for a campaign website is far from a definitive indicator of future political ambitions. But it's a good way to get people talking.
Minnesota Republicans are already chewing over who might be the party's best challenger to Gov. Tim Walz next year. GOP insiders perceive the possibility of a vulnerable Walz, given that his first term has been largely defined by the disruptions of a pandemic and fallout from the death of George Floyd in police custody.
That may or may not be true. No public polls to date have shown any major warning signs for the Democratic incumbent. And Minnesota Republicans have a statewide losing streak of long standing that they need to dig their way out of.
But chatter around a possible bid by U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber raises the prospect of the kind of actual marquee race that many in the GOP felt was denied the party in 2014 and 2018 because of successive lackluster bids by Jeff Johnson.
A sitting congressman who's now won two successive races in the former Democratic stronghold of northeastern Minnesota, Stauber offers a law enforcement background, unusually strong ties to organized labor for a Republican and middle-of-the-road political instincts.
The donors and corporate leaders, lobbyists and operatives, and current and former elected officials who make up the state's Republican establishment, might prefer that over, say, potential candidate Mike Lindell. The pillow company CEO's discredited claims about the election fraud got him banned by Twitter, but his close association to former President Donald Trump positions him well with GOP base voters.
Stauber has tried to straddle those divisions, seemingly in hopes of not alienating Trump supporters but also making some nod to independent voters.
Stauber signed onto a failed lawsuit to overturn presidential results in several swing states. He voted against impeaching Trump twice. But unlike the majority of House Republicans, he voted to certify President Joe Biden's victory.
In recent interviews, Stauber said he's getting asked to run statewide. He is conspicuously not ruling it out: "There's a lot of conversations that need to be had. I'll never say never. I'm keeping all options open," he told the Duluth News Tribune last week.
So it inevitably stirs speculation when "Stauber for governor"-style domain names start getting snatched up. As freelance Twin Cities journalist Tony Webster first noticed last week, several were registered on Feb. 10.
Stauber's political team declined a request to comment on the domain purchases. Sometimes, political opponents or online troublemakers vacuum up domain names of possible future campaigns, so it's no proof of anything.
There are plenty of reasons for Stauber to stay put. For one thing, members of Congress make nearly $50,000 a year more than Minnesota governors.
And challenging the Democratic incumbent in a state that's solidly blue in statewide races is a risky play for any Republican.