Nolan confirms re-election bid in MN’s swingin’ 8th

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8)

Ending weeks of parlor speculation, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) told the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week that he will run for re-election in his Northern Minnesota swing district.

That news had been implied, but not explicitly stated, when Nolan announced he wouldn’t run for governor earlier this summer.

On one hand, Nolan feels a tail wind for this bid. First, President Trump remains deeply unpopular nationwide. Meanwhile, polling shows the Democrats have a chance to take the U.S. House of Representatives. Nolan also demonstrated his political survival skills after winning a 2016 race where he outpaced other Democrats up and down the ballot. He seems to have support in parts of the district that have trended Republican in other races.

On there other, Nolan faces uncertainty. For instance, the 8th District includes the mining-centric Iron Range and exurban counties near the Twin Cities. Here, Trump probably polls above his national average. Accordingly, Nolan actually treads lightly over his relationship with Trump and Republicans, appearing at bipartisan events and supporting Trump’s trade policies.

That closeness has angered many on Nolan’s left flank, including many opponents to new mining projects in the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior watersheds. An independent, Skip Sandman, already announced a bid for the general election. Meanwhile, we continue to hear rumblings of a potential DFL challenger to Nolan in the primary.

Now, Nolan would likely prevail in such a primary, but would then face a general election where disgruntled voters have a third option.

READ: My recent analysis of Nolan’s announced Republican opponent Pete Stauber, potential GOP candidate Stewart Mills, and candidates who might challenge Nolan in a primary. More>>>

Even if it all plays out this way, Nolan remains at least 50/50 on re-election in 2018, maybe better. Nevertheless, polarization of contemporary politics won’t make it easy for a politician who favors a pickup truck, a bullhorn, and bipartisanship. Republicans will look to the three rural Democratic seats in Minnesota they almost won in 2016 as an insurance policy against losses in suburban seats around the country.


  1. David Gray says

    I think your analysis of Nolan’s reelection chances is sound. I’d put him a little over fifty percent chance of reelection right now, maybe 55-60 percent chance.

  2. The key for Nolan is going to be how many votes Skip Sandman — or other environmentalist candidates — can take away from Nolan. In 2014, Sandman took about 4.3% of the vote and Nolan won by a narrow margin of about 1.5%. If a couple more percent of voters are annoyed enough by Nolan’s stand on Twin Metals and other issues to cast a protest vote, Nolan could lose.

    Nolan is damned if you do, damned if you don’t on non-ferrous mining issues. North of US highway 2 any concessions to environmentalists will cost Nolan votes. South of 2, any concessions to mining are potentially costly.

    Nolan needs to hope that November of 2018 finds the electorate at least as negative about Trump and the GOP as they are now, and hope that will blow back on whoever the GOP candidate is and convince leftists that they need to hold their nose and vote for Nolan despite his environmental positions. Meanwhile, although Pete Stauber was a co-founder of the Tea Party in Duluth, in office he has followed a moderate course of action that led to endorsement by unions in his last election, so he may be able to portray himself as a moderate who should not scare voters into Nolan’s arms.

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