Leah Phifer announces DFL challenge in MN-8

Former FBI counterterrorism analyst and Two Harbors native Leah Phifer will seek the DFL endorsement in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District. She reached the decision after a district-wide tour on her motorcycle this summer. (PHOTO: Leah Phifer Exploratory Committee)

Leah Phifer

This summer, national security analyst Leah Phifer of Isanti drove more than 7,000 miles of Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District on her motorcycle to meet voters and decide if she should run for Congress.

Today, Phifer announced she would seek the DFL endorsement for the MN-8 seat, challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan of Crosby. Though it would be fair to call her bid a long shot, the move could have far-reaching implications. The MN-8 race routinely scores among most contentious in the country.

UPDATE: On Feb. 9, 2018 Nolan announced he would retire from Congress making this an open seat. Phifer, who had already gained delegates for her endorsement quest, begins as the first announced candidate for this seat.

“Throughout my career, I’ve learned national security is more than protecting Americans from threats abroad,” said Phifer in her press release. “Our nation isn’t secure if our citizens lack reliable access to healthcare, food and housing.”

Phifer is a former counterterrorism analyst for the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. She concluded that there was an appetite for new leadership in the DFL after conversing with voters across northern Minnesota.

“The DFL base in the district is hurting right now,” said Phifer. “We’re still healing from the 2016 election and now we’re faced with some significant proposals that are pitting people against one another.”

Phifer feels the divide in the DFL over issues like pipelines and new forms of mining in Northeastern Minnesota is best handled through a contested endorsement where everyone’s voice is heard.

“It’s our responsibility to work through these differences, unify and put forth the best possible candidate in November 2018,” said Phifer. “That’s why I’ve decided to seek and respect the DFL endorsement – it’s up to us to find the best path forward.”

Phifer has established a campaign website. She will hold a campaign kickoff event on Oct. 15 from 4-6 p.m. at Carmody 61 in her hometown of Two Harbors.

No matter what, Nolan prepares for another tough race. This becomes the first time since his election in 2010 that he faces an intra-party re-election challenge. Since the 2016 election, Nolan embraced more hard line support of new mining and environmental deregulations. This angered many in the DFL’s environmental base. Meanwhile, the party remains divided along the Sanders/Clinton fission of the 2016 primary and a growing generational gap.

Change is happening in Northern Minnesota — demographic, political and cultural change. A generation of political predictability now gives way to what could be tumultuous times.

Nationally, the 2018 midterms will be momentous. President Trump’s low approval rating and general political dysfunction in the Republican Congress has given Democrats a chance to retake the U.S. House of Representatives. MN-8 could determine control of Congress.

Republican Pete Stauber, a Duluth police captain and St. Louis County Commissioner, announced a bid for Congress last month. Former Republican nominee Stewart Mills has not yet decided whether he will run again.


  1. David Gray says

    It is tempting to vote in the DFL primary and vote for her.

    • Except in the unlikely situation of having no endorsement, since she has pledged to honor the endorsement she will not be a candidate in the primary. In order to vote for her you will have to caucus as a Democrat.

  2. I read her issue positions on her web site. She is pretty much identical to Nolan except on the issue of mining, where she opposes Nolan’s efforts to fast track and carve out exceptions in order to move government decisions about nonferrous mining forward at a faster rate. In the DFL, she is, like Nolan, to the left of midline, except where Nolan moves right on the environment and mining and she maintains a more centrist DFL position. She is of course much younger and a woman.

    Most people assume that Nolan will not run again in 2020, at which time there will be a large number of people seeking to succeed him as the DFL candidate. Phifer seems to be taking one of the possible approaches to being ready for that race, getting name recognition and some base.

    Although she is very unlikely to beat Nolan for the DFL endorsement, and has pledged to honor the endorsement and consequently not run in the primary or as a third party candidate, she will offer the “South of US 2” voters who oppose — in some cases very angrily — Nolan’s positions on mining and the environment a candidate to vote for in the endorsement process. From Nolan’s point of view, if those DFLers get their anger out of their system by running up Phifer’s totals rather than voting for third party candidates in the general election that would be all to the good.

    • Bryan Hansel says

      Don’t forget the anger in Cook County about Nolan’s position in mining. Cook County is her’s if she wants it. Many up here won’t vote for Nolan in the general.

      • I hope she and Cook County win out. Since Taconite Harbor ore docks near Tofte closed in 2001, Cook County has lost all ties to taconite production/mining. It doesn’t belong in the taconite tax relief area. Kick ’em out and let them go their own green way, make it on their own..

      • Yes, Nolan’s aggressive support and efforts to override due process for non-ferrous mining undoubtedly will hurt him in the general election. The unpalatable choice that many DFLers and environmentalists will face is to support a candidate who has positions opposite them on an important issue but largely agrees with them otherwise, or to vote for a third party candidate in order to punish Nolan and guarantee the election of a candidate who not only has the same position as Nolan in nonferrous mining, but positions dead opposite theirs on every other issue as well. In other words, having been shot in the foot by Nolan, should they shoot themselves in the other foot to show how mad they are?

        • Regardless of how many shots Cook County fires, they have no business being in the Taconite Tax Relief Area receiving hundreds of thousands annually. Kick ’em out!

        • How has Nolan overridden the due process? I believe he was pushing for the Polymet land exchange, but not sure how else? Haven’t Dayton and Obama went more over-the-top with their overriding of due process by their actions in the opposite direction?

          • independant says

            Don’t confuse them with the facts Gray Camp. They have no time for those and are much more intelligent then you or I…

          • As Phiffer points out on her website, Nolan is attempting to pass Congressional legislation that overrides court cases and regulatory body evaluations, stopping the normal process of hearings, evaluations, and courts in order to arrive at his desired conclusion without going through the normal process. Phifer, as an attorney and a person with experience working for regulatory and enforcement agencies, finds that disturbing. Obviously people who want to move ahead on non-ferrous mining feel that this is an excellent idea, while they find the efforts of opponents to use the regulatory process and courts to slow or block the projects upsetting. More militant opponents of the projects agree with them on that question, since they believe the projects should be blocked without process, just as the more militant supporters believe the mines should be opened without further process.

            In any imaginable universe, we are at least three and probably five years away from ground breaking on non-ferrous mining while we await the outcome in the courts and the agencies. Nolan and others want to hurry that process by using legislation to end it.

            Glencore and other large international corporations involved in development of non-ferrous mining seem to be unperturbed by the process, other than wanting to assure themselves that their claims remain intact and that the process continues moving ahead. Metal prices have increased from lows, but still remain about 20% below the levels that existed when the projects were planned, so they appear to be just as happy to have the minerals stay in the ground for now.

          • independant says

            Gerald all three of your paragraphs are incorrect but you state them so mater of fact…

          • As I understand it, the USFS is and has been on board with the land exchange. When the sole purpose of a lawsuit is to stall or derail something unrelated to the lawsuit, I have a problem taking the lawsuit seriously – especially when the federal government and the US taxpayers are the defendant.

          • Lawsuits always feel like dirty pool, but litigation against the US government and taxpayers is common. Conservatives have been cluster bombing the Affordable Care Act, environmental regulations, and many other US programs with lawsuits for years. Progressives are right behind them, and the litigation regarding the land swap is just one example. Of course, there are people on both sides who would argue that the litigation is on the side of the angels if it furthers their own particular agenda.

            For certain, any movement in either direction on mining will excite litigation from the losing side.

            There is a lot of stuff that needs to be settled before Glencore and its agents can turn the first shovel. This includes setting levels of pollution that will be allowed, particularly any exceptions to existing state and national regulations; the amount in money, insurance, or bonds that Glencore will have to post in guarantees to insure Minnesota and Federal taxpayers against the costs of clean-up of both foreseen and unforeseen contamination or the threat of contamination, and against the bankruptcy of their client corporation in a disaster of some sort; the degree to which treaty lands of the Fond du Lac Band and other bands can be pollutied before mining is stopped due to treaty violations; the degree to which Glencore and others will be financially liable for damages from mining to resources that are critical to recreation and tourism and to personal property; the issue of noise pollution impact on surrounding property and recreational land; how and by whom the mines will be policed for violations and risks and the process in which potential and actual violations will be handled; etc. etc. etc.

            Once all that is settled, and the litigation over those things is cleared up — and there will certainly be litigation — the permits will be issued. Then the big lawsuits by environmental groups and the Bands will be filed, depositions and discovery will occur, cases will be heard, decisions will be issued, appeals will be filed, appeal arguments will be created, appeals will be heard, appeal decisions will be issued, Supreme Court appeals will be filed, etc. etc.

            That is why I believe that this will not be settled, regardless of how the permitting process progresses, for at least three to five years, and consider that to be a conservative estimate.

            You may not like that, just as people do not like litigation by conservatives about other issues, but it is a fact of life — unless, of course, laws changing the right to appeal and litigate are removed, which is the issue Phifer is talking about. If those laws are passed, they will lead to even more litigation as they are contested in the courts as well.

            As to the interest in moving faster being a goal of the mining companies, I would refer you to the statement Antofagasta made at the time of their purchase of Twin Metals. They stated very clearly that they do not anticipate beginning mining in the near future, based on metal prices and demand and their ability to supply their customers from existing operations at lower costs than attainable in MN. Of course that does not mean they are willing to see their claims revoked or their potential future operations outlawed, and they will certainly litigate that all the way to the Supreme Court. Non-ferrous mining in Northeastern Minnesota is a project of the future, when prices rise, supplies from other sources dry up, and demand rises in ways that make it profitable. Mining companies are very interested in getting the right to mine, but less interested in actually mining right now. An acquaintance of mine who is an academic in the area of mining technology made the observation that non-ferrous mining in MN is going to be costly and the product is going to be significantly more expensive to produce than from traditional sources, and that, as he said, if the mines in Minnesota were open right now, they would most likely be closed.

            Anyhow, we have wandered far from the original question of just what Phifer is up to, what will become of her candidacy, and how it will affect Nolan and his chances of being re-elected in 2018.

  3. She certainly won’t get the endorsement.

    • With Nolan acting like a conservative on this issue, it puts the already beleaguered eighth district DFL in a pickle..

  4. What I find truly sad is the fact that any potential contender must have at least 100 grand in the bank to be taken seriously. That folks is just start up money. Any campaign and its supporters will be scrambling to come up with millions if they are in for the long haul.

    • The amounts needed are pretty amazing. In 2016 Nolan spent $2,874,000 and raised $3,029,000, Mills spent $3,577,000 and raised about $3,578,000. In addition, about $3 million of “outside” money was spent by interest groups not officially affiliated with the campaigns. I am uncertain if those numbers include spending out of personal funds, especially for the very wealthy Mills, who had just sold his family’s business for $1 billion.

      Of course those numbers are likely to be eclipsed next cycle, at least assuming that current trends hold and the House is at least marginally in play. Spending in many key districts will likely go upwards of $15-20 million. They spent $60 million in the recent special House election in Georgia to replace Price.

      • Message is far more important than money. Luther Strange spent over $30 million to Moore’s less than $2 million. Why did Luther loose even though outspending Moore 15 to 1? Same old establishment based, DFL sounding message – “big entitlement based spending –government knows best”. Common sense Judeo-Christian based message my friends, that’s what’ll win votes, not money.

  5. “Common sense Judeo-Christian based message my friends, that’s what’ll win votes, not money.”
    Must have been that message that captivated the Trump voters, since he definitely was, and is, such a “Christian” all the way.
    You must be joking again, Ranger. You surely can’t be serious.
    As far as money goes, the press gave him millions of dollars in free advertising, due to his outrageous behavior. His appeal was to the worst instincts in people…certainly not the best.

    • Two reasons sum up his winning – 1) Make America Great Again, 2) Crooked Hillary. The people saw through the fake “free press”.

      • Alas, Ranger, you just lost the hundred dollars you bet with Amy, promising to manage to go through the rest of 2017 without mentioning Hillary Clinton. Sad.

        • Ya know, that thought crossed my mind after I sent this. I wasn’t exactly sure if that was the bet but…without checking, I believe you. Glad you caught it and kept me honest. Payment will be in the mail to Aaron who’ll have to get it to Amy.
          Ya gotta admit, CR is making it difficult not to talk about her. Latest book failing, Bill not talking to her, broken foot, no job, Clinton Foundation closing down, lost election due to sooo many things going against her…sad.

          • I’m sure it is hard for you . Well, now you are free to fire away again. Unless you can get Amy to go double or nothing on the next six months.

          • I did notice the mention of Hillary Clinton. However, I was sort of hoping if I kept on the quiet, we’d still keep the bet and not get into talking about her excessively again 🙂 I kept up my part and have not watched ABC, NBC, CBS etc. news. However, honestly, I just couldn’t watch FOX either (I did try a few times), so I stopped watching it all together.

  6. I’m really biting my tongue…

  7. As witnessed Amy, I just couldn’t keep from taking the high road, telling the truth. When someone like her speaks such evil, the stones will cry out if we don’t. That said, I’ll get the cash to Aaron and I’m sure he’ll get it to you to use as we agreed. Good to hear you’ve dumped main stream media, I give you credit..

  8. David Gray says

    The bad news for Phifer is that very little of this discussion is actually about her candidacy.

    • Actually, the first 20 out of 30 comments were devoted to her campaign and to issues she brought up in opposing Nolan’s mining stance, and the problems she and Nolan will face in the campaign as well as how her candidacy might affect Nolan’s. Then it veered off the road into the discussion of Hillary Clinton and past efforts to keep discussions here on topic in general, including the Ranger/Amy bet.

      “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

    • Good point David. I did communicate back and forth with Leah in early June trying to figure out where she stands on issues. Edited version of our dialogue follows:

      “Hi Bob!
      It’s nice to “e-meet” you and thank you for the well wishes! (……then a lot of typical, but good, introductory niceties). I hope you’ll go back to the site to check out the Issues page at the end of the week, but until then, I’ll leave you with this link:https://www.dfl.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Ongoing-Platform.pdf – I truly believe in the DFL platform and what the party wants to accomplish. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on it and how we engage more people in our political process.
      Thanks for reaching out!

      In short, she’s a hard core DFL/liberal…. Higher taxes, bigger government, fewer freedoms, tax the rich (more), government elites know best, only black lives matter, ok to kill babies, businesses are evil, global warming is our greatest threat, etc..
      Another Nolan, pick your poison.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.