Rick Nolan to retire from Congress leaving MN-8 wide open

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) meets with voters on his closing tour of the district before his last election. (PHOTO: Nolan campaign)

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) announced this morning he will retire from Congress at the end of his current term. This leaves a wide open race for one of the most closely contested seats in the United States House of Representatives.

Several news outlets reported the news this morning.

Nolan, 74, has represented Northern Minnesota in Congress since 2012, having represented Central Minnesota for three terms in the late 1970s. Each of his most recent victories have been close, hard fought and expensive, but he’s always wiggled his way to victory. Nolan built a coalition of labor Democrats from the Iron Range and progressives to win a district that has trended toward Republicans since 2010. That year, longtime Congressman Jim Oberstar lost in a stunning upset to former U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, who Nolan beat in 2012.

Leah Phifer, the former FBI intelligence analyst who was challenging Nolan for the endorsement, now stands as the only announced candidate. There will certainly be at least one more candidate entering the race, most likely from the labor or pro-copper/nickel mining wing of the party. Others certainly could get involved. But with just two months until the party endorsing convention there isn’t much time. Most likely, an established political name will be required to compete.

The DFL nominee will face Republican Pete Stauber, a Duluth police captain and St. Louis County Commissioner from Hermantown. They will also face Ray “Skip” Sandman, an Independence Party candidate.

MinnesotaBrown.com will be monitoring this race closely. I’ll keep you up-to-date on the candidates and news from Minnesota’s Eighth District.

UPDATE: Nolan’s Statement



  1. The timing certainly suggests that the decision was related to results of the caucuses on Tuesday, but who knows. Perhaps the latest round of budget negotiations just was the last straw for Nolan.

    This most likely not only upends the DFL race but probably also the GOP race. With Nolan out, GOP politicians are undoubtedly wondering if they might want to run for the open seat. Mills, Daudt, and others might be in the mix.

    • There was indeed no straw poll for CD8 at caucuses, but AB wrote in a previous post that Nolan’s nomination might/could be blocked based off of how Governor straw poll results would *likely* translate into support for/against Nolan. The DFL needs a major win here (as well as a thick skin) . It’s going to be messy (per usual). Residents need to vote their pocketbook as well as traditional DFL values. Labor, environmentalists, and all workers need to get behind a candidate that will help support organizing and bargaining rights (kiss that goodbye if the Gov. mansion goes red), to increase turnout for a win in both Statewide and CD8 races. One will help the other.

  2. Tony Sertich, probably the dream candidate for most DFL stalwarts, jumped ahead of the game by tweeting that he has “zero interest” in running. Likely he really means it.

  3. Bill Hansen says

    Leah Phifer is a very good candidate and should not be underestimated. Her stance on sulfide mining, which is to allow full due process without political interference is correct and should be acceptable to all. Given her huge head start in the DFL delegate count, she is the clear front runner.

    • I expect the endorsement process is not going to be a factor in this race any more, since anyone entering now would most likely plan on going to the primary, since the endorsement train has left the station without them.

      I agree that at the moment Phifer is probably the leader. Heck, at the moment she is all alone in the field. She does seem to be willing to put in the work. Does anyone know where she is in terms of fundraising? This is going to be very very expensive,

      As far as I can see, with Sertich out, the DFL does not really have any front runners. That could change fast, though. One thing worth noting is that state senators would not be risking their existing positions if they chose to run. That of course applies to both parties.

  4. Stewart Mills, wasting very little time, says on his Twitter that he is “strongly considering” a run, but that there is “no timeline” on the decision.

    He throw a lot of gasoline on the fire when he withdrew from the race late last year, so not certain how the GOP will feel about him. He does have enough money, if he is willing to spend it, to run a campaign out of his own pocket, so fundraising is not the impediment for him that it would be for almost everyone else.

  5. More fun, more games:

    Jason Metsa, Joe Radinovich, and Jeff Anderson have already been saying they are “strongly considering” a run.

    Michelle Lee, the recently retired news anchor from Duluth and sometime commenter on this blog, is saying she is considering a run.

    North Branch mayor Kirsten Kennedy, who was Nolan’s guest at the recent State of the Union, is supposedly thinking about it.

    A Twin Cities report raised the question of Carly Melin running, although I am unsure if they talked with her.

    Don Ness and Emily Larson, past and current Duluth mayors, have publicly said they will not run, joining Sertich.

    Apparently both Tom Bakk and Tony Lourey are not interested, based on informed sources.

    Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, Robert Kennedy, and Franklin Roosevelt were unavailable for comment.

  6. David Gray says

    Joe Radinovich couldn’t win reelection in his Minnesota House district. I wonder if he isn’t suffering from inflated ambition.

    • There is a long history of inflated ambition in CD8. We had a past candidate whose qualifications consisted of having been PTA president, and he won. Oberstar was a congressional aid. Mills has never held office at all. Anderson was a city councilor ten years or so ago, and then worked for Nolan. I don’t know enough about Kennedy to know what her qualifications are, but North Branch is not exactly a major metropolis. Phifer is a retired — at 33 — government data analyst. Lee has never held office, but has probably followed 10,000 political stories and campaigns.

      Metsa as a three term state rep and Stauber as a two term county board member are pretty much on the top of the list as far as actual qualifications.

      Nolan, who had actually been a congressman prior to running in CD8, stands out far ahead of everyone else as far as qualifications, but he’s quitting.

      • David Gray says

        In one sense someone who has never run is in better shape than someone who lost in his own backyard. But it would be fun to have someone from the Cuyuna Range in the House of Representatives.

  7. Latest news is that Tony Lourey is strongly considering running, after initially saying he did not think he would. He would pop to the top in terms of qualifications based on his career, but I don’t know what his stand on issues would be.

    I am told that Joe Radinovich and Carly Melin have a relationship, and that would preclude her running against him.

  8. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if an actual human ran that had his/her constituents best interests at the front?

  9. I love this blog and the comments. I often find the answers to some of the toughest questions around. Today’s stunning announcement by Congressman Nolan has opened up a wide range of possibilities.

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