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John Kline won’t seek re-election

In a call with reporters, the 7-term representative said it was “just kind of time” to move on.

Rep. John Kline
MinnPost file photo by Craig Lassig

Second District Rep. John Kline, the Minnesota delegation’s most senior Republican, announced on Thursday that he’ll be retiring from Congress when his term ends in January 2017.

“After much careful thought and deliberation I have decided not to seek re-election next year,” Kline said in a press release sent out Thursday morning. “I have never wavered in my commitment to my conservative values. And I have demonstrated my ability to find solutions to the problems that matter most to Minnesota families.”

The announcement came as a relative surprise to Congress-watchers, as did its timing — deep in the lull of the summer recess and before a holiday weekend.

On a call with reporters shortly after the announcement, Kline was relaxed and candid, saying it was “just kind of time” to move on, and emphasizing the work he still has left to do in Congress over the next 16 months, including the passage of a package to reform the No Child Left Behind K-12 education law.

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Kline also made clear that his decision was not made due to health concerns, or worries that he might not win re-election in 2016. He explained that “it’s been a lot of years of me being in Washington,” adding that his grandkids had grown up in a “blink of an eye.” Kline was elected to Congress in 2002, and turns 68 this Sunday.

The seven-term congressman also acknowledged that his decision was partly motivated by the imminent end of his chairmanship of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the apex of his influence in Congress. (House committee chairmanships are limited to three terms.) “It’s time to let someone else have a shot,” he said.

Political realities

Though the 2nd District voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 and Senator Al Franken in 2014, the Cook Political Report still rated it as “likely Republican” as of August 28. Kline was candid about Republicans’ chances of holding the district in an election year when Hillary Clinton’s likely presence at the top of the ticket will heavily drive Democratic turnout.

Kline referred to his district as a “swing district” several times, and acknowledged that an incumbent Republican would probably have the best chance at holding it. However, if the Republican nominee is strong, he said, “there’s no reason why they can’t win this race.” He declined to endorse anyone in particular, and said he plans to fully support whoever the nominee might be.

Whoever does earn the 2nd District GOP nomination — and competition is now expected to be fierce — will likely benefit from some of the campaign cash Kline has raised so far. His campaign has raised over $639,000 this year. State Sen. Dave Thompson has been floated as a top potential Kline successor, but there are many other potential Republican candidates in the district.

Kline’s retirement also throws a wrench into the DFL side of the 2016 race. The two competitors so far are St. Jude Medical executive Angie Craig and VA doctor Mary Lawrence. The prospect of not facing Kline may draw a stronger Democrat into the race: State Rep. Joe Atkins, who represents a part of the 2nd District, said today he will make an announcement regarding his plans next week. Craig has raised over $350,000 so far, while Lawrence has over $1 million cash on hand, much of that self-funded.

Looking past the election and into his retirement from Congress, Kline laughed at reporters’ suggestions he would consider a run for governor or senate — though he didn’t explicitly deny them, either — or the prospect of being on a cabinet position shortlist in the event of a Republican presidential victory. “I expect I’ll have a bit more time to fish,” he said.