MINNEAPOLIS -- The winners of the gubernatorial straw polls say they'd welcome former Gov. Tim Pawlenty to the race, should he decide to enter the fray. But the current GOP front runner has some frank advice for his fellow Republican.

"I welcome the competition, as long as he abides by the endorsement, which is what Tim Pawlenty did when he ran the first time for governor," Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who carried the party's banner in 2014, told KARE.

"If, instead, his thought is to ignore the endorsement and parachute in and buy a primary win, I don’t think that ends well for him, and I think he needs to make sure he’s not just listening to a bubble of lobbyists and big donors in making this decision."

Pawlenty Tuesday created a stir when he announced he's leaving the Financial Services Roundtable, a banking industry trade group based in Washington, D.C. that he has led for more than five years. Pawlenty served as governor from 2003 to 2011, but left politics after an unsuccessful run for president in 2012.

Commissioner Johnson scored a decisive victory Tuesday night in the straw poll of 11,000 Republicans who turned out for their local precinct caucuses across the state. Johnson grabbed 45 percent of the votes, with a 30 percent lead over his closest competitor, former GOP state chair Keith Downey.

"And then you add it on to the other polling that’s been done in the Star Tribune and the State Fair poll, and our lead in the money race, and we’re in a really good spot to unite the party right now," Johnson remarked.

Walz response

First District Congressman Tim Walz, who is leading the DFL primary field in the early stages of the race, said the Pawlenty factor won't really change things for his campaign.

"That's up to him, and he's got his own record to defend with voters," Rep. Walz told KARE, saying he and running mate, Rep. Peggy Flanagan, are focused on positive messages.

"We’re running on a really optimistic, kind of joyful campaigning. That is kind of the antithesis of what voters have seen recently."

Walz scored a solid straw poll victory Tuesday with the 35,000 Democrats who came to their precinct caucuses. He gathered nearly 31 percent of the votes, compared to 20 percent for State Auditor Rebecca Otto, who finished second.

"We know it’s just a snapshot in time, and you’re not governor just because you win the straw poll," Walz explained. "We were excited for the enthusiasm, the number of people who were out there. I think it gave us an opportunity for us to flex our organizing skills."

Former House Speaker Paul Thissen announced Wednesday he's leaving the race, saying the timing isn't right for him this year.