Leah Phifer explores DFL challenge to Nolan in MN-8

FBI analyst and Two Harbors native Leah Phifer will explore a run for Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District on her motorcycle this summer. Phifer says it’s time for a new generation of leadership in the region. (PHOTO: Leah Phifer Exploratory Committee)

Rick Nolan might have ended his exploration of a gubernatorial run, but he returns to his Eighth District congressional race to find some intrigue.

Leah Phifer, a FBI counterterrorism analyst from Isanti, announced Friday she would explore a run for the DFL nomination in MN-8. She’s making her decision in a unique way: a motorcycle tour of the vast Central and Northeastern Minnesota district.

Phifer, a native of Two Harbors, is calling the tour “Around the 8th in 80 Days,” completing the rare Jules Verne political metaphor. She’ll tour the district on her 2001 Yamaha Vstar (if you’re curious, she offers that it’s an air-cooled, SOHC, 4-valve, 75°, V-twin engine; 1100cc with a shaft drive and a 5-speed transmission).

She boasts an interesting profile, one that includes no political experience but almost ten years with Homeland Security and the FBI. Her family line includes small business owners and Iron Range miners. She quit her job at the Brooklyn Center FBI headquarters, so she appears to be serious.

In this race, we’ve already had another DFL candidate, former Grand Marais mayor and Cook County commissioner Sue Hakes, announce an exploratory committee. But that was when it looked like Nolan might run for governor. Why would Phifer consider this now?

Here’s her answer:

After the 2016 election, U.S. media and research institutes spent a lot of time analyzing rural voters, millennials and millennial rural voters. The idea that if there was enough data, enough studies and enough surveys completed, we could understand these notoriously elusive groups. I love me some statistical analysis (I am a Humphrey School grad after all), but I will tell you there is no secret formula to predict the political leanings of working class America, or Millennial America – especially in Minnesota’s 8th district. Our communities are simply not defined by our political persuasions.

I’m the daughter of four generations of men who helped mold the Iron Range mining industry, four generations of women who built businesses from Two Harbors to Virginia, MN. Our relationships aren’t defined by a common political credo. In my family we’re libertarians, independents, DFL’ers and Republicans. We’re held together by our unconditional love for each other, our community and our food (did I mention the women in my family ran some of the best restaurants and taverns on the Range?).

So, as I watched politicians and pundits race to understand us after the 2016 election, I couldn’t help but laugh. If they really wanted to understand us, to help us, they would stop trying to fit us into neat little narratives. My family and friends are scattered from Isanti to International Falls. In MN CD08, we’re hard-working, opinionated, and unpredictable. If you want to understand us, I thought, start by acknowledging that no two towns, counties or people in this large district are the same. So when I began to think about my role in future of this district, I knew where I had to start.

On June 16th, 2017, I will be setting out on a 80 day listening tour, to take the pulse of our varied district. Let’s talk about what makes us so unique, what we have in common and where we can start to re-build the politics that govern us, but don’t define us.

You can find out more about Phifer at her webpage. But who knows what madness awaits in MN-8. The DFL side alone looks to be full of surprises. We don’t even know who the Republican candidate might be yet.

CORRECTION: Phifer informed me that her official title was a counterterrorism information analyst, not agent. So I’ve amended the story.


  1. Dave Butcher says

    She’s a DFL’er?

  2. independent says

    Maybe rethink doing the tour on a Yamaha?

  3. It is time to pass the torch to a new generation.

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