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Minnesota's Mills Closer to a Rematch With Nolan

Mills, shown here in a May 2014 interview, is setting up an exploratory committee for a rematch against Nolan. (Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Minnesota Republican Stewart Mills inched closer to a rematch with Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party member Rep. Rick Nolan next year by announcing an exploratory committee over the weekend.

The news, which was first reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, shouldn’t come as a surprise to the incumbent, who was fully expecting a Mills challenge before the recent announcement.

"He w as in town, I think, last week raising money and telling people he’s going to run again," Nolan told CQ Roll Call outside the House Chambers on Sept. 18. A Republican operative in the state confirmed that Mills was in Washington, D.C., "in the last month or so making the rounds" and that the NRCC has been courting him.  

A GOP operative who works on House races said that Mills would be a top recruit for the party.  

Mills, otherwise known as the "Brad Pitt" of the 8th District thanks to the shoulder-length hair he sported during the 2014 race, lost to Nolan by fewer than 2 points last November.  

He's since lost his locks, and has been vocal about weighing another bid against the five-term Democrat.

Nolan is a member of the Democrats' Frontline Program for vulnerable incumbents. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Nolan is a member of the Democrats' Frontline Program for vulnerable incumbents. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

"Yes, I am very seriously thinking about running again," Mills wrote on his Facebook page on Sept. 3. "But as you can imagine no matter how competitive Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District may be in the 2016 cycle, there are other considerations that I am sorting through."

Having shorter hair might actually help Mills. While the longer coif may have reinforced his image as a political outsider in 2014, it also could have cost him conservative votes in the district.

Democrats are optimistic about holding onto a seat that President Barack Obama won twice. When Nolan ran in 2012, he defeated Republican Chip Cravaack by a 9-point margin — the same margin by which Obama carried the district. Nolan first served in Congress from 1975 to 1981.  

The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call rates the race Safe Democrat  in 2016, but the contest could become more competitive when Mills officially enters the race. The Republican told the Star Tribune he would have “ a possible mid-October announcement if everything comes together."  

Given his narrow victory last year, Nolan is a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Frontline Program for its most vulnerable incumbents.  

Republicans acknowledge that presidential years have been strong for Democrats in the state, but one Minnesota Republican operative doubted that the district would see the same turnout as in 2008 and 2012, giving Mills a better shot, especially after such a narrow loss last year. "He was well-known last time and ran a good race," the Minnesota Republican operative said.  Mills, who was attacked for his wealth last cycle, is expected to be able to easily fund a campaign. His family owns Mills Fleet Farm, a farming and sporting goods retail chain with stores throughout the Midwest. The Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported that he had a net worth of at least $34 million last year.  

Related: Less Hair Could Mean More Votes in Minnesota  Brad Pitt and Minnesota's 8th District  Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.