Endorsement politics in Minnesota’s Eighth District

Current DFL candidates for Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District.

On April 14, almost 200 Eighth District DFL delegates will meet in Duluth to endorse a successor to retiring U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan. Five candidates want the job. Five candidates will seek the endorsement. But considerable speculation remains over whether some of them press on to a Aug. 14 primary regardless of the convention outcome.

Former FBI security analyst Leah Phifer and North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy say they will abide by the decision of the delegates. State Rep. Jason Metsa and former State Rep. Joe Radinovich are making a hard play for the endorsement, but they do not rule out running in a primary. (UPDATE: I missed the news that Radinovich told the crowd he would honor the endorsement). Neither does former news anchor Michelle Lee who, of the five, currently seems the most open to a primary run.

Phifer’s been running since last year. She has always been committed to the endorsement. She’s both needs the endorsement and arguably sits as a front-runner. That’s why the other candidates, all of whom entered the race much more recently, seem to be playing chicken with the idea of honoring it.

Metsa and Radinovich have been picking up delegates alongside Phifer at recent conventions. The real question is which of these “Iron Range” candidates comes out in a better position at the convention. Scratch the surface, and this could come down to a survival game. Radinovich is the “front of house” politician, a smiling JFK figure. Metsa is the “back of house” politician, a labor dealmaker born a generation too late, but with unique skills at a convention. There’s probably only room for one of them if this goes to a primary.

Meanwhile, Lee either has to hope she pulls in a lot of delegates in Duluth or that there is no endorsement. Lee has the advantage of name recognition and may decide to take it to the primary because her chances with the general public are probably better than with party regulars. If Phifer goes down, Lee could find some room. She might anyway.

Hagen Kennedy has the toughest path, but people tell me she’s been impressive on the stump. If the convention becomes chaotic, she could pull a James Garfield and serve as a compromise candidate.

I’ve been asking people if they think the convention might not endorse anyone. That’s certainly possible. But people don’t like gathering in a convention hall for a whole day to do nothing. I’d still view an endorsement — of someone — as more likely.

It’s unlikely that the endorsement will clear the field. But it will thin the field, providing voters a clearer choice.

The DFL candidates will meet for their first candidate’s forum on April 4 from 6-9 p.m at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet. The event is sponsored by local DFLers.

Pete Stauber remains the only Republican candidate for the office. He’s poised to be endorsed at the May 5 Eighth District GOP Convention. Ray “Skip” Sandman has already been endorsed by the Independence Party.

You can follow the MN-8 race at my special coverage page.

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