Rep. Jim Abeler and Abigail Whelan

Rep. Jim Abeler and Abigail Whelan

Describing himself as “all in” as a U.S. Senate candidate, Minnesota State Rep. Jim Abeler said Tuesday that he will not seek re-election to his longtime House seat.

Flanked by family and supporters, Abeler, R-Anoka, a 16-year House veteran, said Tuesday that the decision to give up his seat was difficult but necessary to devote his time to the Senate race.  He added that he will likely run in a primary if he doesn’t receive the Republican Party endorsement.

Abeler, a leader in the Health and Human Services field, said it’s time to take his knack for collaboration to Washington in hopes of breaking what he called a seemingly hopeless partisan gridlock.

“I grieve when I see what’s happening in Washington, I grieved during the shutdown,” Abeler said. “These people do not know how to get anything accomplished.’”

Abeler is backing Abigail Whelan of Anoka to fill his House seat. It’s the first foray into running for office for Whelan, 26, a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Whelan previously served as a legislative assistant for State Sen. John Pedersen, R-St. Cloud, and campaign manager for former Sen. Mike Jungbauer, R-East Bethel. She currently works as an administrative assistant for a home health care company.

Abeler said he chose to step aside because “it’s hard to have a foot in both camps,” but also to be fair to Whelan, who has been endorsed by Anoka County Republicans.

“If people think that she is a placeholder then that affects fundraising, it affects focus and it affects people’s confidence.” Abeler said, adding that it wasn’t easy to step aside—no less than 57 people asked him to run for a ninth term. But the Senate run is paramount.

Abeler has made more than 300 campaign stops throughout the state since announcing his candidacy last June. He is one of seven Republicans vying for Sen. Al Franken’s seat, including businessman Mike McFadden and State Sen. Julianne Ortman. Abeler, who has raised $109,250, lacks the funding of McFadden and Ortman, but said his experience, name recognition and willingness to collaborate will likely take him far.

“If good people don’t go to Washington, Washington cannot be good,” Abeler said. “Washington is supposed to be us. St. Paul is supposed to be us.”

See the updated list of legislative retirements here.


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