Even before the governor won a second term, he made his intentions clear: If re-elected, he wouldn’t run for a third.
That gives ambitious Minnesota DFLers a long lead time to start planning for 2018. Given the statewide successes of the party in Minnesota in recent years, a lot of big names and proven winners are likely to consider it.
“Obviously the DFL is focused on 2016, but we have to keep our eyes on 2018 too,” DFL Chair Ken Martin said. After two terms under Mark Dayton, Minnesota Republicans will be desperate to reclaim the office.
Four years is a long time in politics. Not all on the following list will end up running, and others could still emerge. But some of the names below have already started quietly courting party donors and activists.
Tina Smith: By elevating his first-term chief of staff to his second-term lieutenant governor, Dayton gave this longtime political operator a foothold in electoral politics. Smith is well-respected by a number of top corporate leaders — an important constituency for statewide candidates. Her perch next to Dayton for four years will keep her close to major decisions affecting the state. But she is untested as a candidate, and the lieutenant governor spot has seldom proved a launchpad for the top job.
Tim Walz: A five-term, moderate congressman from a rural-leaning swing district, Walz could help the DFL shore up support outside the Twin Cities. That may prove tempting for party activists who saw the DFL lose its hold on the House when 10 outstate House seats flipped to Republicans. Walz also offers a common-man appeal. He spent 25 years in the Army National Guard and worked for years as a high school teacher and football coach. But a reach that doesn’t extend much beyond southern Minnesota could prove challenging for a statewide standard-bearer whose party draws its greatest support from the Twin Cities.
Lori Swanson: The DFL attorney general just handily won a third term in office, and holds a post that in other states often is a precursor to higher office. Swanson has focused on consumer advocacy, taking on mortgage lenders, credit card companies and perpetrators of fraud against seniors. Swanson has not shied from occasional clashes with her fellow DFLers in the Dayton administration. But recent Minnesota attorney generals have fallen short as gubernatorial candidates. Swanson’s mentor, Mike Hatch, and his predecessor Skip Humphrey both lost their respective bids for governor.
Lawmakers: Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook and outgoing House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis, the Odd Couple of DFL leadership in the Legislature, both ran for governor in 2010, and could be contenders again. Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul, just finishing a two-year stint as House majority leader, is another prospect. Thissen’s and Murphy’s fates are tied to successfully retaking the majority in 2016. Bakk’s task will be to keep the Senate in DFL hands, and his moves at the Capitol are likely to be under the microscope of DFL activists worried he might be too eager to compromise with the GOP.
Mayors: Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman are both the subject of perennial gubernatorial speculation, and one or both could decide to make a go of it in 2018. Rybak ran in 2010, and has made little secret of his continued interest in the job. But by 2018, he’ll have been out of office for five years, and could struggle to reignite interest. For Coleman, the similarity of his and Rybak’s political profiles could make it tough to distinguish himself.