Attorney General Lori Swanson told supporters Sunday that she is running for re-election, ending months of speculation that she would enter the race for governor.
The third-term DFL attorney general had been considered a top contender for her party's nomination for governor. She has a high-profile job that has made her well known to the state's voters and a big list of previous supporters she could turn to for campaign contributions.
Swanson's decision, which other DFL candidates and power brokers waited on for months, changes the DFL race for governor. Most importantly, it diminishes the likelihood of an expensive and crowded DFL primary in August, good news for party leaders who had feared an intraparty battle ending just 10 weeks before Election Day.
Swanson had been expected to skip the June DFL Party convention and go straight to the primary.
Suddenly, the winner of the DFL convention in June no longer has to look forward to a well-known, well-financed Swanson waiting in the wings.
"This enhances the value of a party endorsement at the convention," said Brian Rice, a longtime DFL operative.
The race for governor is entering a crucial stage, as candidates will release their 2017 fundraising results this week. Days later, voters in both parties will gather Feb. 6 for precinct caucuses, at which they will support candidates for governor in a nonbinding straw poll.
With Swanson out of the governor's race, the DFL field appears to be settled, which means the straw poll should be an accurate barometer of where candidates stand among the party's most reliable voters at this point in the race.
The precinct caucuses also kick off the long process of selecting delegates to the party conventions, which both parties will hold the weekend of June 1.
DFL candidates and operatives say the party's voters are concerned about winning. A Republican victory in the governor's race would likely give them full control of state government for the first time in more than half a century. That in turn would allow Republicans to enshrine conservative policy goals — lower taxes, less regulation and a less friendly environment for labor unions — that have swept across Minnesota's neighbor states of Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas.
The DFL field now includes former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman; U.S. Rep. Tim Walz; state Reps. Erin Murphy, Tina Liebling and Paul Thissen; and State Auditor Rebecca Otto.
Walz, who said in a recent news release that he raised $1.1 million for the governor's race last year, finished first in a recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll of DFL primary voters, with 21 percent. Swanson came in second with 16 percent. But the other candidates have reason for optimism: Nearly one-third of respondents remained undecided.
Among the Republicans running are former party chairman Keith Downey, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens and conservative activist Phillip Parrish.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the last Republican to win a statewide race, is also mulling a return to Minnesota politics.
Swanson, who has a small group of advisers and is known to keep her decisionmaking close to the vest, broke the news in an e-mail to supporters Sunday, in which she thanked them and touted her accomplishments as attorney general.
"It is an incredible honor to represent our fellow Minnesotans in this office. I appreciate the support of the many people who have encouraged me to run for governor," she wrote in the e-mail. "The work of the attorney general's office is at a critical juncture for the next two months. I must focus all my energy and attention on that work," she continued, likely referring to a lawsuit against 3M for alleged health effects of water contamination. The trial is scheduled for February.
A number of high-profile DFL candidates had already indicated their intention to run for attorney general in the event Swanson ran for governor, including former Rep. Ryan Winkler, Rep. Debra Hilstrom, former commissioner of the Department of Commerce Mike Rothman and St. Paul City Attorney Sam Clark.
It's unclear if any of them will run against Swanson.
Matt Pelikan, a progressive lawyer, said previously he would seek the DFL endorsement for attorney general whether Swanson runs for re-election or not.
Doug Wardlow, a former one-term Republican state legislator from Eagan, is the only Republican running for attorney general.