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Mary Lawrence withdraws from Second District congressional race

For the moment, Lawrence’s withdrawal leaves Angie Craig of Eagan facing only token opposition for the DFL nomination.

portrait of mary lawrence
Mary Lawrence

The race to replace John Kline as representative of Minnesota’s Second Congressional District took a surprise turn Tuesday when Dr. Mary Lawrence, one of the leading contenders for the DFL nomination, withdrew.

For the moment, Lawrence’s withdrawal leaves Angie Craig of Eagan facing only token opposition for the DFL nomination, unless Lawrence’s withdrawal induces other DFLers to enter the race.

Political handicappers have long favored Craig to win the DFL endorsement for the seat, but Lawrence, who is wealthy and was viewed as able to raise substantial campaign funds, seemed headed for a primary challenge.

Officially, Lawrence said she was suspending her campaign, despite the fact that she feels that she could win a primary, because a primary campaign would be expensive and divisive within the DFL, reducing the chances of a DFLer winning the seat, which has been held by Republican John Kline since 2002.

Kline has been re-elected by fairly large margins ever since – most recently by 17 percentage points in 2014 — but announced that he would not seek another term. Several candidates, most notably former radio talk-show personality Jason Lewis, are vying for the Republican nomination.

But the seat is not considered safe for Republicans. President Barack Obama carried the district in both his 2008 and 2012 runs, and several DFL candidates for statewide office have also carried the district. All of the professional political handicappers agree that Kline’s retirement makes the seat a toss-up or a leaner heading into 2016, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting the race as a potential Democratic pickup.

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The Second Congressional District stretches from the southern Twin Cities suburbs southeast to Wabasha County.

For the moment, Lawrence’s withdrawal is a boon for Craig, a former St. Jude Medical executive, who, if she wins the seat, would be the first openly lesbian member of Congress from Minnesota. But there is still time for another DFLer to enter the race, and Lawrence’s withdrawal will probably set off some serious thinking. Several DFL politicians have surely considered seeking the seat if Kline ever retired. But Kline didn’t announce his plans until Craig and Lawrence were already running, which led several who might have run to hesitate.

State Rep. Joe Atkins of Inver Grove Heights, for example, who has contemplated running for the seat and for several statewide offices over the years, had announced that he would not enter the congressional race this cycle. One DFL insider described Atkins as an obvious example of someone who had passed on the race when Craig and Lawrence seemed to have claimed dominance over the endorsement and primary paths, respectively, but who might be thinking hard now about taking a shot.

The list to look at would include those with a record of activism in DFL politics in the district, and perhaps especially those with strong ties to organized labor, which is seen as a possible weakness for Craig because of her work as a corporate executive.