Historically, Minnesota politicians who run for president have been kind of like the Minnesota Vikings: They’ve been all the way to the big game, but the best they’ve done is finish second.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s recent entry into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 makes her the latest Minnesotan to mount a run for the highest political office in the land. None has ever made it all the way.

The two who got closest also came to Washington, like Klobuchar, by way of the U.S. Senate. Hubert Humphrey joined the Senate in 1949, rose through the ranks as a leader on civil rights, and in 1964 joined President Lyndon Johnson’s winning ticket as running mate.

After four years as vice president, Humphrey won the Democratic nomination for president in the turbulent election year of 1968. He went on to narrowly lose the general election to Richard Nixon.

It was the closest a Minnesotan ever came to the White House: Humphrey lost by just over half a million votes out of more than 60 million cast.

Walter Mondale didn’t do so well when he got his turn at the top of the national ticket. A protégé of Humphrey, Mondale followed a similar path. He joined the Senate in 1964, and in 1976 Jimmy Carter picked him as running mate. Republican Ronald Reagan defeated Carter four years later, and in 1984 Mondale returned to challenge Reagan as the Democratic candidate.

Reagan won in a landslide, carrying every state but one — Minnesota — and beating Mondale by nearly 17 million votes out of about 90 million cast.

But Humphrey and Mondale were not the first or last Minnesotans to catch the presidential bug. Republican Harold Stassen, who served as Minnesota’s governor from 1939 to 1943, ran for the GOP nomination a total of nine times between 1944 and 1992. He never won it, and after his first couple tries he came to be seen as a perennial candidate who could never muster more than nominal backing.

Eugene McCarthy was another Democratic senator from Minnesota, a contemporary of Humphrey and Mondale who mounted his own presidential bid in 1968. His candidacy was largely built around opposition to the Vietnam War — an awkward contrast to Humphrey, who as sitting vice president was implicated in Johnson’s military policies.

That intraparty squabble found an echo of sorts in 2012, when two Minnesota Republicans both mounted White House bids. After two terms as governor, Tim Pawlenty made a move into national politics but found unwanted competition in Michele Bachmann, a congresswoman and conservative firebrand.

Neither made it far in the race.


Patrick Condon 202-662-7452 Twitter: @patricktcondon patrick.condon@startribune.com