By Jim Ellis
April 10, 2017 — We’re 19 months from the next election, yet already major Minnesota political moves are being made. Though state law does not limit its governors to eight years in office, incumbent Mark Dayton (D) has already announced he will not seek a third term next year. His retirement decision is setting political musical chairs in motion.
Additionally, the Democratic Farm Labor Party, the state’s dominant political apparatus, was shaken in November as President Trump came within just 45,000 votes of winning the state and, in fact, carried five of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts. Together, these events have put much of the state’s liberal political establishment on edge.
Last week we reported that six-term Rep. Tim Walz (D-Mankato) formally announced his gubernatorial campaign and immediately took positive steps toward becoming a major contender. Walz arranged for fellow Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Detroit Lakes) to announce his support, which has strategic value. So does former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (D) expressing public support for Walz’s gubernatorial aspirations.
Rybak had been considered a potential gubernatorial candidate, himself, but his endorsement of Walz has obviously put to rest any suggestion that he will run. His influence within the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolis could be a substantial benefit to Walz, since the former mayor is influential in this area that so dominates the Democratic state convention and usually delivers the often-definitive party endorsement.
Minnesota is a primary state, but in most races the party endorsements secured in the pre-primary state conventions usually complete the nomination process. We saw more candidates force primaries in 2016, but prior to last year going to an actual primary election was a relatively rare occurrence. It’s too early to tell whether any of the eventual Democratic gubernatorial contenders will force a primary in 2018, but Walz getting an early start in obtaining key endorsements is an obvious attempt to sway the convention process.
Meanwhile, Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Crosby/Duluth), who barely survived re-election with a scant 2,009 vote victory, says he is seriously considering running for governor and will decide by the end of April. Hence, this is the reason Rep. Peterson’s endorsement for Walz is important because getting Nolan’s northern counterpart on board sends a different set of positive political signals to eventual state convention delegates.
Nolan is developing an interesting reason as to why he may run. Understanding that Minnesota will almost assuredly lose a seat in 2020 reapportionment -– they kept their eighth seat by just 15,000 people in 2010 -– the Duluth area congressman says as governor he can work to protect the northern congressional seats in the redistricting process. He has a credible argument, particularly since there is a strong probability that the two northern districts, his and Rep. Peterson’s, will be combined into one seat. It is the northern region that is losing population, and both of the affected representatives are already 72 years of age or older.
Needless to say, if both Walz and Nolan run for governor, their two open House districts will be in play during the 2018 general election cycle. President Trump scored a 53-38 percent victory in Walz’s 1st District, and carried Nolan’s 8th CD with a 54-39 prcent spread. These seats, coupled with what will be a competitive 2nd District (freshman Rep. Jason Lewis (R) seeking re-election after winning 47-45%), means that political campaigning in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes will be hot and heavy come next year.