In a district that’s been in Republican hands for seven terms, Democrats have at least two candidates lined up to contest the newly open race for retiring Minnesota Rep. John Kline's seat. Republicans, not so much.
“It is wide open,” one Minnesota Republican strategist said of the race on the GOP side.
President Barack Obama carried this district twice, albeit narrowly in 2012, but without a strong Republican candidate in the race, Kline's retirement prompted the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call to change the race's rating from Safe Republican to Tossup .
"Mr. Kline served quite well and honorably and is well liked; he was pretty much a shoo-in," 8th District Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan told CQ Roll Call outside the House Chamber Friday. "But with an open seat, the Democrats — we've got a really good shot."
In the two weeks since Kline announced that he’ll retire at the end of this Congress, many of the Republicans initially floated as potential successors have taken themselves out of the running.
Although none have done so with quite the same imagery as state Rep. Pat Garofalo, who said he "would rather stick a fork in [his] eye than run for Congress."
Earlier this week, the candidate with perhaps the most recognizable last name, former Dakota County District Court judge and former first lady Mary Pawlenty announced she wouldn't seek the seat , saying in a statement she preferred to continue her career as a mediator.
"Had Pawlenty gotten in, she would have big-footed most other credible candidates out," the Minnesota Republican strategist said. And before Pawlenty, 2014 GOP Senate nominee Mike McFadden bowed out. He told the AP Monday that he's focusing on his school board service.
But Republicans in the state suggest McFadden has his sights set on a 2018 gubernatorial bid instead. McFadden was worried, the GOP strategist said, "that two losses would make him too tarnished" to pull off a gubernatorial bid. McFadden lost to Democratic Sen. Al Franken by more than 10 points.
State Sens. Eric Pratt and Dave Thompson have also declined to seek Kline's seat. Thompson didn't rule out a bid for governor.
The GOP shortlist now looks much different than it did even a week ago.
Former state Sen. Ted Daley, an accountant and West Point grad who served in the Gulf and Iraq wars, is widely considered the party's most credible candidate at this point. He was elected to the Senate in 2010, but lost re-election in 2012.
Calling him "squeaky clean," the state GOP operative said that Daley's military service casts him "in the Kline mold." Kline served 25 years in the Marines.
And while Daley's "very conservative," a GOP operative who works on House races added, "he's not a bomb thrower."
Although he's not likely a top recruit, one candidate with the ability to self-fund is former state Sen. John Howe, who told the Twin Cities Pioneer Bulletin Wednesday, "I have been contacted by numerous people to run, so I am seriously weighing the options." The former Red Wing mayor, who lost the nomination for secretary of state in 2014, said he will make a decision by early next week.
State Rep. Tony Albright is also considered a credible candidate, but probably wouldn't be in the top tier, the House race operative suggested.
The two most conservative candidates considering the race are state Rep. Steve Drazkowski, who appeals to tea party activists, and two-time Kline challenger David Gerson, the one Republican already in the race. Republican operatives suggest that both men would be too conservative for the Obama district in a presidential year, and that they're likely to eat into each other's support if Drazkowski gets into the race. Former state Rep. Pam Myhra is well-regarded, but she, too, could be too conservative for what Kline told reporters on Sept. 9 was a clear swing district.
Chris Andryski, another CPA and Army vet, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune he's considering it, but Republicans watching the race aren't as familiar with him.
The contest will come down to "how can you raise significant dollars pretty quickly," the Minnesota operative said. "That’s a challenge for Gerson and Drazkowski to make that sell to donors," he added. Daley, however, is likely to have a much stronger fundraising base. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor field hasn't solidified either. Besides health care executive Angie Craig and physician Mary Lawrence, state Rep. Joe Atkins is reportedly considering jumping in, while state Rep. Rick Hansen is expected to make an announcement over the weekend.
While waiting for candidates to get in the race on their side, Republicans paint Craig and Lawrence as too liberal for the district.
"Minnesota’s 2nd District voters haven’t sent a Democrat to Congress in 15 years, and with two true-blue liberals vying for the Democratic nomination, they aren’t about to start now,” NRCC spokesman Zach Hunter said in a statement Friday.
Craig told CQ Roll Call that she plans to abide by the DFL's endorsement process, but Lawrence didn't rule out challenging Craig in a primary if she doesn't secure the party's endorsement at the convention next April.
Asked about the two women already in the race, Nolan called them both "terrific candidates."
"We’re going to get behind them, whoever it is," Nolan said. Related: