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30 Years Later, Nolan Considers Comeback Bid

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Why, after all these years, would Nolan want to return to Congress, especially after the frustrations he experienced in the 1970s?

“There are times when people are willing to make big changes. We are at a tipping point with wars of choice, the financial future of our entitlements, the federal budget deficit and the decimation of our middle class. This is a time when big changes are needed,” said Nolan, who doesn’t seem to have changed his liberal bent over the years.

The former Congressman also noted that he was happy being represented by Democrat James Oberstar, who was upset by GOP challenger Chip Cravaack in November.

Nolan says he understands times have changed, and he promises a well-funded, modern campaign if he runs. But politics has changed dramatically since the 1970s.

He spent a then-impressive $212,000 on his last re-election campaign but now agrees he’ll need to raise closer to $3 million than $2 million to win. According to end-of-the-year FEC figures, Cravaack spent $630,000 on his race last cycle and benefited from $332,000 in spending from the party and outside groups on his behalf. Oberstar spent $2.2 million trying to hold on to his seat.

More importantly, two other Democrats are already in the race, openly gay Duluth Councilman Jeff Anderson and EMILY’s List-backed former state Sen. Tarryl Clark, a favorite of liberals who recently moved into the district after losing to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) last cycle.

To make things more interesting, Republican legislators have proposed a dramatic redrawing of the state’s Congressional lines, and Nolan, Clark and Anderson might ultimately live in the northern district of Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, not in Cravaack’s central Minnesota district. Because the state’s governor is a Democrat, redistricting is likely to end up in court.

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine a 67-year-old who has been active in community issues and some local politics but otherwise off the radar screen for decades succeeding in a comeback attempt against much younger politicians who have had to operate in the current political environment.

But regardless of whether Nolan runs and wins, he reminds us that age is no impediment to having ambition and the desire to play a part in molding the nation’s future.

And after spending years talking with too many plastic political wannabes who parse their words and regurgitate talking points, it was more than a little refreshing talking with an old-timer who was in the middle of things in the 1970s, just walked away, and now is flirting with a comeback attempt that would be one for the record books.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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