Former WCCO news anchor Don Shelby is reportedly mulling a run against three-term Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen next year, potentially putting in play a suburban Minneapolis congressional district that has been in Republican hands for decades.
Shelby’s interest burst into the open amid remarks by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who mentioned it at a Washington fundraiser Wednesday attended by about 30 or 40 campaign contributors, lobbyists and Democratic activists.
Peterson’s account of Shelby’s interest was confirmed by two prominent Minnesota lobbyists who were at the luncheon. Both said Peterson described Shelby’s long career in Minnesota broadcast journalism.
Democrats have been tight-lipped about Shelby’s possible entry into the race, but they made clear Thursday that they would welcome a respected Twin Cities figure with almost universal name recognition across the state.
“I don’t know if he’s in or not,” said DFL Chairman Ken Martin. “If he is considering his options, I don’t think there’s any question that he’d be a very strong candidate against Congressman Paulsen. The fact is, if he gets in the race, it [the district] would become an immediate target for Democrats, not only in this state, but around the country.”
Shelby, 66, did not respond to an emailed interview request. But several DFL sources said he has been courted as a potentially game-changing candidate who does well in internal polls of potential candidates.
Paulsen, a former Minnesota House Republican leader, presents a formidable challenge for Democrats. He has amassed a $1.3 million war chest, and has positioned himself effectively as a pro-business champion of the influential medical device industry in his district. He won reelection last year with 58 percent of the vote.
But Paulsen also represents a suburban swing district that was carried by President Obama last year, making him one of 16 Republicans around the nation to hold seats that went Democrat in the last presidential election.
That has sparked interest among Democrats nationally as well. A Democratic congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Shelby has been on a “wish list” of prospects for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the political arm of the House Democrats.
A spokesman for the DCCC declined to comment Thursday, as did Cheryl Poling, the DFL chairwoman for Minnesota’s Third District, which includes much of the western Twin Cities suburbs where Shelby lives.
“There’s been a lot of interest in the race, and there have been quite a few names brought forward,” Poling said. “I think it would be wonderful to see a strong person step forward.”
Shelby has not stepped into politics before. But in recent years he has emerged as a promoter of saving the environment. He and his wife, Barbara, and their "green dream home" were profiled in the Star Tribune a year ago.