REGIONAL—Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson lobbed the political equivalent of a hand grenade into the DFL gubernatorial contest when she announced on Monday that she will run for governor, …
REGIONAL—Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson lobbed the political equivalent of a hand grenade into the DFL gubernatorial contest when she announced on Monday that she will run for governor, with Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan as her running mate.
Swanson’s announcement came just two days after she abruptly withdrew her bid for party endorsement for attorney general after failing to receive the required 60 percent on the first ballot at the DFL state convention in Rochester. Swanson received 52 percent of the vote on the first ballot, while a spirited challenger and DFL activist Matt Pelikan received 47 percent, then won by acclamation after Swanson withdrew.
For Nolan, the announcement was yet another twist in his unusual political career. Nolan had explored his own bid for governor late last year before announcing he would run for re-election to Congress, instead. He later withdrew from that race after a strong showing in precinct caucuses by Leah Phifer, who was challenging Nolan for the DFL endorsement. Nolan, at the time, said he wanted to spend more time with his family, which a job as lieutenant governor might make possible.
“I told him it’s a pretty good semi-retirement plan,” quipped state Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, when Nolan talked to him the night before the announcement.
During a press conference in Minneapolis on Monday, Nolan described the call from Swanson and said she made “a compelling request.” He also cited her executive experience as one reason for his decision to join her effort. “I was pleased to learn that she would anticipate a collaborative administration,” said Nolan, who cited the Jimmy Carter White House, where former Vice President Walter Mondale played an important role as a presidential advisor.
Swanson will enter the gubernatorial race with high name recognition, having served as attorney general since 2006. She was re-elected in 2010 and 2014, two years that were far from favorable for many DFL candidates. Swanson has family connections to the Orr area, and has proven to be a solid vote-getter in northeastern Minnesota.
Her announcement has significantly upended the prevailing view of the DFL contest for governor going forward. Party delegates endorsed state Rep. Erin Murphy, of St. Paul, and her running mate state Rep. Erin Maye Quade at their state convention on June 2, although First District Congressman Tim Walz had announced he intended to challenge that endorsement in the August primary. Walz, from Mankato, had spent much time in northern Minnesota, and had picked up considerable support from many on the Iron Range. Those efforts will surely be tested given the new makeup of the race.
“I’m a little disappointed,” said state Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls, who had backed Walz. “This will definitely throw things into a little kerfuffle in the Eighth District,” he said. “I was a Walz supporter. I don’t know if my views have changed yet… I’m still trying to digest the whole thing.”
Bakk agreed that the latest development is a blow to Walz. “He called me this morning,” Bakk said on Monday. “He is not happy.”
Bakk predicted that Swanson’s decision makes it more likely that Murphy will emerge the winner in a statewide primary, as Walz and Swanson are likely to divide up much of the rural Minnesota vote.
Bakk said he had been considering his own bid for governor had the party failed to endorse a candidate, but he said the recent announcement by Republican Sen. Michelle Fischbach to resign her Senate seat to run with Tim Pawlenty helped to clarify his priorities. He said the DFL has a strong candidate in Fischbach’s district, and a DFL victory there would put the party back in charge in the state Senate, providing a potential backstop to a possible future GOP governor. Bakk said he’ll remain focused on raising money for that contest and won’t be weighing in on the governor’s race, at least ahead of the primary.
Even so, Bakk sounded a pessimistic tone for the DFL should the primary send Murphy on to the general election. “There is zero chance she will win in November,” predicted Bakk. “I heard there are 13 rural DFL party chairs who have quit over it,” he said. “It’s a pretty metro-centric ticket.”
Bakk said he expects Swanson to be a formidable candidate, and he said he wasn’t surprised by her decision. While Swanson had originally announced she would seek re-election to her current post, she seemed to do little to gain support from party delegates and never spoke at the convention, which is standard for a candidate seeking endorsement.
Swanson took fire from a few party activists during last weekend’s convention. In his speech to delegates, Swanson challenger Matt Pelikan (pronounced “pelican”) accused Swanson of quietly dropping a state challenge to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, failing to hold drug companies accountable for the devastation of the opioid epidemic, and settling a longstanding environmental lawsuit against 3M for far too little.
Pawlenty will run
The DFL isn’t the only party in Minnesota facing a hard-fought gubernatorial primary. Delegates at the Republican state convention, held last weekend in Duluth, endorsed Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson in the governor’s race, but he’ll face a formidable challenge from former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who recently resigned his position as a banking industry lobbyist in Washington, D. C. and has returned to Minnesota to seek a third term as governor.