Rep. Rick Nolan says he’s ‘leaning toward running for governor’

MinnPost photo by Paul Walsh
8th District DFL Rep. Rick Nolan: “I’ve been trying to find a good reason for not doing it, and I’m having difficulty finding that good reason.”

Minnesotans should soon know whether the race for governor will get another high-profile entry: On Thursday, 8th District DFL Rep. Rick Nolan told MinnPost that he is “leaning toward running for governor.”

“I’ve been trying to find a good reason for not doing it,” Nolan said, “and I’m having difficulty finding that good reason.”

The congressman, who was about to depart D.C. for the House of Representatives’ two-week Easter recess, said that he will likely make a decision by the end of the month.

Nolan has been publicly flirting with a campaign for the open-seat 2018 gubernatorial race since the beginning of this year, and had maintained that he was considering it, even as other top Democrats like 1st District Rep. Tim Walz entered the race.

Today’s comments are the strongest indication yet that Nolan may run. On Wednesday, an organized effort to draft Nolan for governor — launched by Nolan loyalists and backed publicly by some Democrats — made a big step, hiring Emily Jensen, the caucus director of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Minnesota campaign, as an organizer.

“I started out giving consideration of this thing as a courtesy to the number of people who are encouraging me to run,” he said. “They’ve done a lot of work on this thing. They’ve done a lot of polling and calling, and the more they do, the better the prospects look.”

“I’ve gone from considering it as a courtesy to I’m giving it very, very strong consideration at this point.” Nolan added he has seen some of the initial polling, “and it’s pretty encouraging.”

Nolan admitted he is facing some pressure from D.C. Democrats to run for reelection, so that the party does not have to deal with another open seat contest in a district Donald Trump won, as it will in Walz’ 1st District. Each of Nolan’s three campaigns for the 8th District seat have been nationally-watched battleground races.

But Nolan said, “it’s a good time to hand the seat over… I said to myself, if and when I leave the Congress, I would want to do it at a time when we had good candidates to run in my place, and when things look favorable for Democrats.”

He said the 2018 could well be that time. “The way the Trump administration is going, I think it’s going to be an exceptionally good year… If I save the 8th District for one more term, then we didn’t have a Democratic governor and we lost it in reapportionment for the next ten years, that’s a factor in my consideration, a big factor.”

Though Nolan said his chances of running are higher than 50-50, he said that he is planning to use the next two weeks on the phone and taking meetings in order to arrive at a final decision.

“I haven’t had the time to speak directly with party leaders,” Nolan said. “I’ve spoken with most everyone in the family. I just want to have some time. It’s a big decision.”

Nolan, who is 74 and represented northern Minnesota in Congress the 1970s and returned to the House in 2013, said that “at any age, you’re too old for a fool’s errand.”

In a hallway off the House floor, Nolan pointed to a bust of Beshekee, a Minnesota Ojibwe chief from the 19th century who traveled to Washington in old age to seek federal help for a famine.

“You’re never too old,” he said, “to run for governor.”

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/06/2017 - 11:28 am.

    Good reason

    If elected, he would turn 80 during his first term.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/07/2017 - 11:30 am.


      Per Wes’s correction below (which I checked as well) Nolan would only be 79 at the end of his first term.

  2. Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 04/06/2017 - 11:58 am.

    Nolan would be pretty good

    I also think we can keep the 8th this cycle seeing as Mills is probably gonna run again. Then we win the governorship and draw out the southern part of the district and add in the NW corner during redistricting

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/06/2017 - 01:11 pm.

    The obvious reason

    is that he barely won reelection last November: 50.3% to 49.7%.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/07/2017 - 09:28 am.


      He did that well in the face of a huge GOP/Trump wave? If a D didn’t lose last year, it’s hard to see them losing next time, when voters usually like to see a check on the party in power. Even a party that can’t get a healthcare bill to a vote on the floor of the House.

    • Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 04/07/2017 - 09:37 am.

      Yes but Mills had the Trump coattails

      2018 is gonna be totally different. Nolan won by 9 points in 2012

  4. Submitted by Andrew Virden on 04/06/2017 - 01:52 pm.


    Emily Jensen was *not* the director of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Minnesota campaign. She was the caucus director, a big difference.

  5. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 04/06/2017 - 08:50 pm.

    What luck!

    Now we can have another Congressman run for Governor immediately after winning their congressional seat. Do these people ever think ahead? Oh wait, it is easier to run when you have a public forum (and budget) from which to work.

  6. Submitted by Wes Davey on 04/07/2017 - 07:46 am.

    Age correction

    A minor correction to this article – Nolan was born on December 17, 1943; that makes him 73, not 74.

    If elected, he’d be 75 when taking office, not too old if he can do the job. Still, there seems to be too many politicians who just can’t seem to find a life outside of politics and who keep hanging around way past their usefulness…Congress is full of such people (Sen. Orrin Hatch comes to mind).

  7. Submitted by Tom Johnson on 04/07/2017 - 10:51 am.

    What About Policy

    All this noise about running/not running, blah, blah, blah and not a single word about the (maybe) candidate’s political record or where he stands on key issues like renewable energy, public infrastructure jobs, a liavble wage, single-payer health, how has he voted on the trillions for U.S. imperial wars, etc. Also there is no concrete comparison with other candidates on key issues. And his age does matter.

    Seems like the DFL is going the way of the national party. Right down the tubes. Instead of coming up with a true progressive and uniting around her early on we’re going to have to listen to the white noise of impotent re-treads fighting over who will get the governor’s pension.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/09/2017 - 01:53 am.

      True progressives

      The problem is that your definition of true progressive may be different from mine and both may be different from the next guy’s. I consider Rick Nolan to be a true progressive.

      If the DFL loses the governor’s race, Minnesota turns into Wisconsin. Given what’s at stake, the small policy differences between DFLers really don’t matter that much, and matter even less considering that anything too radical won’t get through a Republucan legislature.

      Nolan and Walz have demonstrated they can get the votes in the rural parts of the state where Trump won big. The other (metro) candidates won’t fare nearly as well. That’s why this matters.

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