Edina Mayor Jim Hovland, a recent convert to the DFL Party, announced Monday that he would run for Congress as a Democrat in the Third Congressional District, a seat being vacated by Republican Jim Ramstad.

Hovland has been running for several months but made his official announcement at a transit center in Eden Prairie, symbolic of the importance Hovland has placed on transportation during his tenure as mayor and as a member of the Edina City Council.

Hovland said his top priority in Congress would be to improve the economy for middle-class Americans, beefing up pensions and reducing administrative costs to fund a universal health care plan covering the uninsured. He also says he would consider raising the federal gas tax for transportation improvements.

"Bridges shouldn't have to fall down before we decide to invest in our transportation infrastructure," Hovland said.

With his official announcement, Hovland joins state Sen. Terri Bonoff and Iraq war veteran Ashwin Madia in pursuing the DFL endorsement. State Rep. Erik Paulsen is now the lone Republican seeking the seat but has yet to make an official announcement.

Hovland acknowledged that he became a DFLer only in September after Ramstad unexpectedly announced he was leaving Congress after 17 years. But Hovland said he believed the Republican Party had shifted away from his values in recent years, particularly on social issues such as gay rights and stem cell research.

Hovland said he brings the best prospects of electability in a district that has not had a Democrat in Congress in 50 years.

"I think I can do for the Democrats what Jim Ramstad did for the Republicans," Hovland said. "I can create situations where there are a tremendous number of independents and Republicans who will cross over to vote for me because they know what I have done in the last 10 years."

Hovland said his intention is to abide by the DFL endorsement in the race but said he would leave the door open for participating in a September primary.

"I guess you would say you never say never," he said.

The district encompasses much of Hennepin County's western suburbs and is considered a toss-up since Ramstad's announcement.

Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636