Rick Nolan considering run for MN Governor

Rep. Rick Nolan speaks with Vice President Joe Biden on stage at Hibbing Community College in 2014. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

J. Patrick Coolican of the Star Tribune reports that U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan is considering running for governor in 2018. Nolan, a Democrat, represents the Eighth District of Northeastern Minnesota.

Nolan pulled off a remarkable victory in his 2016 re-election bid. He defeated his Republican challenger even though this toss-up district swinging decisively toward Donald Trump in the presidential race. Nolan only won by 2,000 votes, but the win established him as a political survivor with a loyal base in Northern Minnesota.

On one hand Nolan, 73, might seem too old and too regional to be a plausible candidate in a DFL increasingly dominated by younger Twin Cities voters. Indeed, despite his apparently good health, Nolan’s age would be a liability. And Nolan’s brand of folksy economic populism and mining-friendly policies better fit an Iron Range union hall than an arena full of DFL delegates.

However, I wouldn’t describe this as a totally crazy idea.

First, consider the other DFL candidates who have already announced. They include State Auditor Rebecca Otto, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and State Rep. Erin Murphy. Each of them hold their own unique appeal to DFLers, but none have necessarily frightened away competition.

More candidates will likely emerge, but the bigger story is the one that didn’t. Amy Klobuchar opted to run for re-election to the Senate, rather than for governor as she had considered doing.

Klobuchar would have been a unifying candidate in a DFL party full of sometimes warring factions. Without her, the candidate pool becomes far more fragmented.

Coleman and Murphy will have to build coalitions outside St. Paul. Based on what? With whom? Coleman is a popular mayor of the state’s second largest city, but isn’t well known outside his hometown. Murphy is well known to Minnesota legislators and political wheeler-dealers, but probably even less known to voters outside her district. Sitting here in rural Itasca County, I’m not sure I see an easy way forward for them.

Otto presents a more compelling candidacy. She’s more exurban than metro, living in a rural area near Stillwater. She’s won three statewide races. Otto earned a lot of support from progressives and environmental DFLers for her skeptical stance on nonferrous mining projects in Northeastern Minnesota.

That’s the part that makes me think Nolan isn’t crazy for trying to run. As I’ve written, Otto has already shown that, in a primary, any enemies she’s made on the Iron Range can be overwhelmed by her strong DFL support from the rest of the state. Who from the pro-mining wing of the DFL could avoid that fate? Tom Bakk? His 2010 campaign was lackluster. His tenure as Senate Majority Leader was controversial. And then he lost the Senate Majority, rather unexpectedly, last year. The decisive 34th vote came from the defeat of a senior member of the Iron Range DFL delegation.

What I observed in 2016 was the degree to which rural Minnesota, particularly voters on or near the Iron Range, rejected the DFL outright. Not for logical reasons, but for emotional ones. DFL voters sense the trouble, but don’t yet know how to appeal to the soft Trump voters. Otto, in particular, is a logos candidate operating in an age of pathos. I admire her greatly, but that would be her biggest challenge.

Meantime, Nolan survived in 2016 because he’s an old timey pathos slinger. He lives in rural Crosby. He started his own wood pallet factory. Pickup truck. Rifles and orange bibs. He says the word “Medicare” the way your grandpa pronounces it. Sometimes his speeches drone off into soft edges, but his applause lines are simple and consistent. He’s also a knowledgeable, nice guy who doesn’t make many enemies.

Further, Nolan isn’t just a Iron Range mining guy; he’s one of the few candidates emerging who endorsed Bernie Sanders in the primary. If he manages to win over some of the Sanders progressives, he might have a working coalition. Long shot, but maybe.

Then there’s this. I don’t know whether Nolan wants to run again for Congress or not. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is probably at a loss for finding a slam dunk candidate if he doesn’t. Running for governor — even if he loses — would be an honorable way for Nolan to get the DCCC whips off his ass. He doesn’t have to decide when to declare himself a lame duck. He could be the governor! Maybe! Lose, and he goes fishing. No harm in that.

In a one-on-one between Otto and Nolan, I’d see Otto having significant advantages in the DFL endorsement race and/or primary. Nolan’s not a very good fundraiser. But it’s unlikely to turn out that way. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith is likely to enter the fray with some money to spend, making a bee-line to the primary. Other recognizable names could step forward. Paul Thissen? The 2016 DFL gubernatorial field could get crowded.

Nolan runs well in a pack. It’s not crazy. It’s not likely, but it’s not crazy.


  1. David Gray says

    Very good article except for this error:

    “What I observed in 2016 was the degree to which rural Minnesota, particularly voters on or near the Iron Range, rejected the DFL outright. Not for logical reasons, but for emotional ones.”

    Otherwise very interesting and some good points made.

    • I’m not sure what the error is, other than my claim is debatable. I would argue that the people who voted Obama in 12 and then Trump in 16 weren’t reviewing tax plans side by side to make their assessment. It was an emotional reaction to cultural changes, generalized frustrations and economic stagnation. I don’t think there was much logos to be found in the year 2016.

      • Independant says

        Not emotional reaction to cultural changes at all in my opinion. In talking about the election with many family members and friends that had never voted republican before the reoccurring theme was simply jobs. After seeing how the democrats stop project after project on environmental emotions these folks were sick of it.

        • The election of 2016 was a prism. You look in there and you see a thousand images, including whatever you want to see. That’s not to say your examples are invalid– they are valid. I’ve heard some who think the same. I’ve heard some who were broadly uncomfortable with “what’s happening to this country,” which I take as a sort of code for cultural change. I know others who are generally anxious about the way things are going for their small town, region, or middle class community and voted Trump in hopes it would disrupt the decline.

          And then there is the majority of people who did not vote for Trump. Again, for various reasons.

          • If the world series was determined by total runs, Minnesota would’ve lost the 1991 World Series. Thankfully for the Twins, that’s not how the series winner is determined. And you didn’t hear a peep from Atlanta or the rest of the country complaining ad nauseam that the Braves should be declared the winner because they had the most runs.

            Thankfully for the people of the U.S., and the vast majority of the states, the president isn’t elected that way either.

  2. Ranger, you poor pigeon. You have no clue what is coming and that you will suffer the consequences along with all the rest of us.

    • The Twins won kissa, 4 games out of 7. Trump won, 306 to 232. I’ve gotten over it. You and our dear friend Aaron should also. Just sit back, enjoy, and savor the 8 year blessed ride. I sure am…

      • I agree that we have to get over it.

        The point is that the USA was never conceived of as a democracy, and still is not one. It is “a Republic, if you can keep it.” The founders specifically did not trust the “people” to govern or even vote. In the first elections following the adoption of the Constitution fewer than 15% of the adult population was eligible to vote, with voting restricted to men of property like the founders themselves– that meant farmland, for the most part, with business owners and people who just owned their homes mostly excluded. The structure of the electoral college and the Senate was designed to insulate the government from the people even further, as well as to protect the power of rural areas and especially slave holders.

        Over the years we have moved in the direction of more democracy, gradually with things like increasing the rights to vote of business people and even of workers, and by lurches for the rights of black people, Asian people, Native Americans, and women. But we still preserve some of the core non-democratic structures, especially the electoral college and the Senate, where cows and trees outweigh people.

        I expect that some day we will resolve that as well — electoral college first, then finally the Senate. But that time is off in the future, since for now the the system has an obvious lopsided benefit for one party. That party has been able to get first place in a presidential popular vote only one time in the last 25 years, and consequently is unlikely to see that change as positive.

        But you have to play the game as the rules state, and this game was won by Trump, his 75,000 votes scattered in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania overcoming the 3 million votes he was behind overall. Rules is rules, and these rules is not likely to change.

        • As people come to understand the electoral college was first and foremost created to protect “states rights” (not cows and trees rights), it’s highly unlikely the majority of states will ever relinquish their personal rights to the likes of New Yorkers or (especially) Californians. Plus, no way are Floridians interested in the tax structure of Californians.

          The concept and power of “states” is well-liked by the vast majority of Americans and not likely to change. Heck, we fight like hell when it’s suggested to combine school districts. Each election, we’ll always hear of some poor loser Braves fans who wished the Series was determined by total runs…they’re a minority though.

          • Fact check: The majority are in favor of election by a straight majority vote by a wide margin, which has been well established by polling results well beyond the margin of error time after time. The rights protected are not states’ rights, but the right of the minority to dictate to the majority. “States’ rights” have been the refuge of scoundrels since the days of slavery, through the Confederacy, and on through the days of civil rights, both historic and current. If I were you, I would avoid that connection, since it stinks of murder, rape, and oppression.

            As I conceded above, the electoral college will be here to stay for a long time, protected not by the majority, but by politicians at the state and national level for whom preservation of the rights of cows and trees remain paramount over the rights of people because it allows them to win and control the national government, despite persistent minority status. Changing the constitution requires not a vote by the people, where it would certainly carry, but a vote by entrenched politicians in Congress and in state legislatures who have a personal interest in continuing the system as it is.

            I will readily allow that Trump won on these terms, and that we are certainly stuck with him and with the electoral college.

  3. I guess the Germans “got over it’ , too, and we all know how that turned out. This fool, who is going to be the next POTUS, is a national shame , knows nothing about governing ,and is going to wreak havoc that will take our country years to recover from . Mark my words…
    I , for one , have no intention of sitting quietly by while Trump attempts to reward himself and his wealthy buddies even further, continuing to destroy the middle class , many of whom foolishly voted for him, or stayed home.
    The initial topic was Rick Nolan . I think he would be a fine governor,but so would the other Democrats mentioned in Aaron’s column.

    • Your words have a hateful, bigoted, racist and threatening tone Jackie. Under Obama’s administration, they’d get you a IRS and FBI call. At a minimum, you’d be hacked.

  4. We’re in good company with Trump then Gerald. He hopes to over-ride states rights regarding the current state-by-state conceal carry gun laws.

    NATIONAL RIGHT TO CARRY. “The right of self-defense doesn’t stop at the end of your driveway. That’s why I have a concealed carry permit and why tens of millions of Americans do too. That permit should be valid in all 50 states. A driver’s license works in every state, so it’s common sense that a concealed carry permit should work in every state. If we can do that for driving – which is a privilege, not a right – then surely we can do that for concealed carry, which is a right, not a privilege.” -DJT

    I never did consider “states rights” as code for racial segregation, etc. like some have. I’m more of a non-politically correct constitutionalist. States rights are simply those powers reserved for the state governments rather than the federal government according to the U.S. Constitution. No more, no less, no code words.

    • No, the history speaks for itself. You join such stalwarts as John Calhoun, Jeff Davis, Nathan Bedford Forest, George Wallace, Bull Connor, and the Grand Dragon of the KKK in praise of the notion that the rights of states override the rights of people. Regardless of what you consider, you are siding solidly with that tradition. Of course, you already made that clear last year in your white supremacy post.

      The newfound enthusiasm of you an other Republicans for the Electoral College is a classic case necessity being the mother of invention. It is much easier and much more honest to say flat out that you believe the minority should be able to rule the majority, a tradition you share with Madison, Jefferson, and other founders from the South. This is, as I say, the historic situation in the US, and the current control of the Senate, the House, and the Presidency in elections that consistently are won by a minority of voters is not an exception to our history. Democracy is the exception, and your opposition (and fear of being “ruled by California and New York”) is typical of our history.

      Just FYI, of the 20 largest states, Trump won ten, including two of the top four (New York is now fourth in population, behind Texas and Florida.) He did win more of the smallest states, by 13 to 7, but that is not overwhelming either. The GOP could compete well in elections based on majorities, but has no desire to risk it, since the cows and trees always vote for them.

      I know you will want the last word, as usual, so I will sign off now. Go ahead.

      • OK…but FYI, Trump won 50% more states than crooked Hillary, 30 to 20, 2600 to 500 counties – 520% more, 3,420,000 square miles to 380,000 square miles – 900% more (thank God for those tree and cow votes), and of course the only one that counts, 306 to 232 electoral votes – 43% more. Now that’s a landslide with mandate no matter how measured..

        • Just another fact correction.

          Actually, other than the two George Bush wins, Trump’s is the worst performance by a winning presidential candidate in the last 35 years in terms of electoral college total and states won. I don’t know about acreage. Trump’s win ranks 46th best out of 58 elections, and actually 47th if you discount the Jefferson/Burr election debacle of 1800, which was a tie due to disfunction of existing rules for president and VP votes.

          Trump is nonetheless unquestionably the president and hopefully will serve all citizens of the country well. Since he is the only president we have, we need to wait and see what he actually does, all campaign rhetoric aside. Keep in mind that Jack Kennedy won by one less vote in the EC, although he did win the popular vote narrowly. We need to judge Trump by what he does from now on, not by the poor numbers he posted.

          In case anyone wants to know, the best performances were two Washington victories with 100% of the EC. Monroe 1820, FDR 1936, and Reagan 1984 round out the top five. The worst, by far, was John Quincy Adams, who actually trailed the electoral vote by Andrew Jackson by 84 to 99, but who won when there was no EC majority (William Crawford won 41 EC votes and Henry Clay won 37 in a four way contest,) and the House of Representatives selected Adams. Hayes 1876, Bush 2000, John Adams 1796, Wilson 1916, and Bush 2004 round out the rest of the bottom.

  5. “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.” – Donald Trump, Nov. 6, 2012.

  6. Trump has long ago shown us who he is .
    “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”
    ― Maya Angelou

    • Maya’s a racist and never created even one job. Trump has already created millions of private sector jobs….prior to formally being sworn in no less. Compare that to Obama’s post-election pre-swearing in 60 days job creation. Not to mention the thousands of Democrats across the country who lost their jobs once he got in office. What are the likes of Tom Saxhaug, Tom Anzelc supposed to do now, after their morning coffee, no pay check coming in?? Sad.

      • Yet another fact check. Actually, Maya Angelou has created a lot of jobs. The editing, manufacture, distribution, and sales of her books, the production of her plays, the staffing that runs her lectures and appearances amount to thousands of jobs. She even has probably created a few jobs for angry white men who, wounded by “white fragility” and offended that a person who is visibly not only black but female as well has the temerity to express her own thoughts, have made a lot of money denouncing her in places ranging from Fox News and the NY Post to Breitbart and Stormer.

        • Gerald…
          Are you saying this isn’t racist?….“Of course, Castro never had called himself white, so he was O.K. from the git”. – Marguerite Johnson (Maya Angelou)

          Then like a good racist, she interjected herself into the George Zimmerman issue, calling him a “white Hispanic” man. A white Hispanic man?, in contrast to what, a black Hispanic man? She was not only racist, she was stupid…and narcissistic. She insisted people call her Dr. Angelou. Did she even graduate from high school? And anyone who changes their name from a good Swedish name, like Marguerite Johnson to Maya Angelou can’t be all there.

          And talk about arrogant – She said “black women are so special. Few men of any color and even fewer white women can deal with how fabulous we are”. That’s not projecting arrogant racism/sexism?

          Did you ever listen to what she said at the racist, Jew-hating bigot Louis Farrakhan’s 1995 Million Man March and his Nation of Islam supporters? You should.

          Next, you’ll probably be telling me she said – “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song” as Obama and the USPS claim…lying, trying to build her image.

          No Gerald, this woman was a phony. “I’m not modest,” Angelou explained to the AP. “I have no modesty.”

          Liberals are trying hard to prop her up as an all around “woe is me, tough up bringing” omniscient author. She was nothing more than a charlatan…and more revered by liberals than read.

  7. A few mistakes there, again.

    Angelou was the feminine form of her married name, Angelos — her first husband was Greek — and Maya the nickname she was known as by her family. She adopted them as a stage and professional name that was more unique than her birth name, like many entertainers from Cary Grant to Ringo Star — or Donald Trump’s father, for that matter.

    She had multiple doctorates, all honorary, and was entitled to use the title. She was a full professor at Wake Forest for years. She was, as you say, self-educated in an era — the 30’s and 40’s — and a place — the Southern US — when very few poor black Americans had any chance of an education, To my mind, that makes her fluency in multiple languages, her wide knowledge, and her ability as a writer and artist and creator more, not less, impressive.

    The line you quote is a Chinese proverb, adopted by many Western authors, including Angelou, and which became a tag line for her in her lectures and performances, partly as an invocation of her most famous work. It is often credited to her, but it was a trademark, not an original composition. Like Ronald Reagan saying “make my day” or Donald Trump saying “you’re fired.” If I were rating them as tag lines, I have to say I like Angelou’s better.

    Angelou was, first and foremost, a successful professional entertainer, first as a singer-dancer in night clubs, on the musical stage and in records, then as a film maker, then as a lecturer, writer, spoken word artist, and poet. As such, she did, in fact, generate at least hundreds, and maybe thousands of jobs, as well as bring in tens of millions of dollars for workers and for theater and press owners.

    Like many black intellectuals from the era in which black Americans were systematically oppressed and abused, she traveled in a wide circle of people who were pushing back against the abusive world of the time, many of whom are probalby offensive to avowed white supremacists.

    If you don’t like her, and resent a black woman voicing pride in herself, her gender, and her race, I cannot help that . Many people do like her work, and admire her pride, intelligence, and personal resiliency in surviving through the depths of the Jim Crow and States’ Rights era in the South as well as physical and sexual abuse and exploitation to emerge as a success and person of pride. I personally find Billy Crystal to be like fingernails on a chalkboard, but that doesn’t make him a bad person. People react to different people in different ways. But the great thing in this country is that we accept all sorts of different people in our pluralistic society of Indigenous people, captives stolen from their homelands, immigrants from every country on Earth, and people of every race, religion, and culture. Angelou and Trump are just two of them.

    • Gerald….You remind me of this kindergarten teacher in our hockey association. Every year she goes on and on insisting we buy medals for all the kids just for participating. So we do. It makes her feel good.

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