Nothing but open road on route to MN-8 DFL nod

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber waits on the MN-8 playground. (EDITED PHOTO: Taken from public domain and Flickr CC)

Last year I made a lot of hay out of the race for Congress in Minnesota’s Eighth District. The end result ended up less climactic and influential than we all thought.

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN8) ended up winning by just over five points, becoming one of few Republicans to win open seats in an otherwise Democratic year. A progressive independent candidate kept the race from being as close as was expected.

And though Stauber carried just 50.72 percent, conventional wisdom places him as the favorite for re-election in 2020. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dropped the race off their top target radar. That means any DFL victory here has to be home grown.

Great. So who’s running?

Well, that’s the thing. Nobody. Not yet, anyway. The 2020 race could be volatile, an environment where Democrats could win in a wave or lose in a Trump rumpus. A strong, well-planned Democratic campaign could be stymied here; however, even a lousy one might strike gold if things get weird.

Weird is normal now, in case you missed it.

One discouraging factor for Democrats is that the ex-cop and hockey star Stauber seems to be raising money and not blundering in any obvious way. I’m hard pressed to name something of substance that he did, but he’s on TV a lot and is generally inoffensive. He’s flying high on incumbency dust and he won’t come down easy.

The 2018 DFL nominee Joe Radinovich announced earlier in August that he wouldn’t seek the nomination again in 2020. But no one jumped out to run in the wake of that announcement.

Today, the Duluth News Tribune reported that Baxter City Councilor Quinn Nystrom was considering a run. She’s probably best known as an advocate for Type 1 diabetics amid the high prices for insulin. She ran unsuccessfully for State House District 10A in 2016, but lost badly to GOP State Rep. Josh Heintzeman in the Trump wave that hit most of rural Minnesota.

No other candidate has publicly indicated consideration of a run. You could consider the unsuccessful candidates for the DFL endorsement and nomination in 2018: Leah Phifer, Jason Metsa, Kirsten Kennedy, Soren Sorensen and Michelle Lee. But most of these folks have either indicated other plans or have taken new jobs. I got to know them all and yet none have told me anything new for some time.

Former Duluth State Senator Roger Reinert has drawn some notice. He recently returned from active duty in the U.S. Naval Reserve and passed the bar to become an attorney. But he has not said what his plans are.

Living on the Iron Range as I do, it is notable that no local campaign apparatus seems to be in the works. It’s hard to imagine the corpus of the Range DFL political machine giving a free pass to someone who hasn’t recited the mining vespers.

Thus the big news is no news. If you’re thinking of running for Congress you’ll find nothing but open road between here and the Democratic nomination. The fastest will prevail.


  1. Dave Kamper says

    Typo – Leah Phifer, not Leah Stauber

  2. Jess Koski says

    …has Roger actually heard he’s passed the bar? I thought he said he had to wait until October for results. Anyway… He’d be good.
    I’d run, but since I retired the thought of sitting in a meeting makes me want a beer, or three.

  3. Population stagnation in Duluth and outright loss of population on the Range have combined to make CD8 a GOP leaning district. The district is now dominated by votes from North Central Minnesota and from the outer ring of Metro suburbs, and those are GOP votes. Auditor and Secretary of State, races that usually feature candidates who are largely unknown to most voters, are good indicators of partisanship, since most people only know the candidates’ party affiliation when they vote. Although both seats (and the Attorney General, which this last year had a controversial candidate who broke through the usual anonymity) were won handily by DFL candidates, in CD8 both of them showed significant GOP leads.

    In addition, CD8 is certain to be significantly changed in the 2021 reapportionment. There is still a very good chance that it may disappear altogether, although GOP efforts to suppress census counts of Latin and black people and of immigrants of all stripes may repress counts in Texas, California, Arizona, Florida, and other Sun Belt states enough to to preserve the existence of CD8. However, even if it still exists, it will be subject to major changes. The district has had the smallest population growth in the state, and as such will require addition of new areas to rebalance population in 2022. Just who these new voters are will be important for the question of party lean in a 2022 CD8.

    Just how either re-assignment of CD8 to other districts or reassignment of substantial numbers of voters from other districts to CD8 will go will be subject to political forces. By winning the governorship, the DFL has guaranteed that the GOP cannot gerrymander Minnesota as it has Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, and other states. If the DFL were to hold the House and win the Senate, they would be in a position to do their own gerrymandering, since efforts to assign redistricting to a non-partisan commission failed in the legislature this last year. At best, the GOP holding at least one of the houses of the legislature would probably throw redistricting into the courts once again.

    Anyhow, it is not clear that winning CD8 would be a particularly good deal for any member of either party, since the district is going to change a great deal and might well make re-election in 2022 very difficult for the incumbent, whichever party they are in. I would look for both parties to pay more attention to CD1, which has more potential for a change of hands, and to trying to hold or to undo the 2018 flip of CD2 and CD3. CD5, notwithstanding Trump’s personal invective against Omar, is probably very safe. The GOP does not seem to be able to find a viable candidate for Smith’s senate seat, a recurring problem for the GOP in recent statewide elections. CD8 just is not getting the attention it has in the past.

    Any of these projections could, of course, be overturned by a lopsided turnout for the presidential election, either for or against Trump.

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