MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota's attorney general jumped into the state's crowded race for governor on Monday, just two days after being snubbed by Democratic party activists for re-election to her current job.
Attorney General Lori Swanson joins the field for the Democratic nomination just a day before the state's filing deadline closes — and five months after passing up the race in favor of a fourth run for attorney general. She abruptly withdrew from the race for her current job on Saturday, after her party gave its nod to a little-known challenger who painted himself as a more liberal alternative.
Swanson said the Saturday loss gave her time to consider her options, maintaining that she lost support only because she was unwilling to take pledges sought by activists. On Monday, she touted her work as attorney general while positioning for the governor's race, including helping to block the merger of a major Minnesota hospital system with a larger South Dakota conglomerate and a recent water pollution settlement with 3M Co.
She dubbed herself and her running mate, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, as "Minnesota's Problem-Solving Ticket." Swanson and Nolan — who previously announced he would retire from Congress this year — said their partnership quickly blossomed over the weekend, starting with an initial meeting on Sunday, and said their records of electoral victories gives them an edge over opponents.
Swanson's entry into the gubernatorial race will make for a potentially bruising Democratic primary in August, as Democrats try to hang on to the office when Gov. Mark Dayton leaves after two terms. The party endorsed state Rep. Erin Murphy, who appealed to the party's more liberal factions, during the weekend over U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, though Walz is still running in the primary.
Dayton endorsed Murphy as his successor, saying he had seen her "transformative leadership," according to a statement released by her campaign late Monday. Murphy said she was honored by Dayton's endorsement and looks forward to "building on the work he has done" in income equality, access to health care and expanding early childhood education.
On the Republican side, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson clinched the party nod for governor — but Democrats expect they'll face former two-term Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in November. Pawlenty announced his bid in April but skipped the party convention.
Swanson entered April with $210,000 in her attorney general campaign, but she can only transfer $40,000 of that sum directly to her new committee. Murphy started the spring with $72,000, while Walz had more than $600,000 on hand.
Swanson has been one of Democrats' most consistent performers in statewide elections in Minnesota, winning each of her three terms as the state's top attorney with roughly 53 percent of the vote. She's cruised to victory against little-known Republicans by at least 11 percentage points in each race.
Nolan flipped his northeastern Minnesota congressional seat and then survived two grueling re-election bids in one of the nation's most competitive U.S. House districts before announcing his plan to retire earlier this year.
Swanson said their track records at the polls would allow them to quickly build a campaign for the August primary in nine weeks.
And the race to replace Nolan in the 8th Congressional District could give Swanson and Nolan a boost. Four Democrats are fighting for the party's nomination for the seat, which will drive up Democratic turnout that could favor Nolan compared to other areas.
But the unrest among the Democratic party's more liberal factions that led Swanson to withdraw from the attorney general's race could also factor into the governor's race.
Matt Pelikan, a little-known Democratic activist and attorney who clinched the party's nod for attorney general, criticized Swanson for not doing enough to challenge the National Rifle Association and for quietly dropping a lawsuit against President Donald Trump's travel ban. He and other Democrats called Swanson's $850 million settlement with 3M a capitulation compared to the state's $5 billion lawsuit against the company alleging its chemicals had harmed the environment.
Democratic delegates roared packed inside a Rochester convention hall roared when Pelikan narrowly trailed Swanson after the first round of voting. Swanson pulled out soon after. Pelikan responded by saying: "Democrats are ready for strong, authentic progressives."
Swanson's late pivot also will trigger a game of musical chairs within the party for the attorney general's race, beckoning many state lawmakers who had previously planned to run before Swanson initially decided to seek a fourth term.