By J. Patrick Coolican
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz said Monday he is running for governor in 2018.
Walz said in a phone interview that he brings a "passion for Minnesota" and a "proven ability to get things done working with other folks."
A Mankato DFLer representing the First Congressional District, Walz was elected in 2006. DFL powerbrokers have been hoping Walz would run, given his ability to garner votes in greater Minnesota. Walz has been re-elected in tough Democratic years like 2010 but barely squeaked by in 2016 despite facing weak opposition. Walz ran ahead of DFL presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who lost the district by 15 points.
After losing the state Senate in 2016 and falling deeper into the minority in the House, DFLers say much is riding on the 2018 governor's race.
Walz, a retired high school geography teacher and retired command sergeant major in the Army National Guard, is also known as an energetic retail politician.
He won some acclaim among DFLers in 2004 when he was stopped and briefly hassled by Republicans while trying to enter a campaign event for President George W. Bush. Walz defeated longtime GOP Rep. Gil Gutknecht two years later.
The Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a Republican aligned group that has helped turn the Legislature Republican, released a statement, calling Walz a "Washington insider": "With his 10-year record as a liberal rubber stamp, Walz won't fool anyone when he claims he's a moderate," said John Rouleau, the group's executive director.
The attack is an attempt to preempt what will surely be a Walz campaign message, that he is not a typical DFLer. A gun owner who has been supported by the NRA, Walz has focused his energies in Washington on farm and military issues, including a recent appointment as ranking Democrat on the Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Walz said he would focus on issues like education, health care and transportation but first wants to hear from Minnesotans, espcially the seven congressional districts where he is largely unknown. Walz called the increasing geographic divisiveness of Minnesota politics a "false narrative" and touted his ability to bring Minnesotans together.
He also said watching Washington political dysfunction has given him a new appreciation for state government: "A lot of important things are going to get done at the state level," he said.
He joins State Auditor Rebecca Otto, Rep. Erin Murphy and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman in the DFL race. Others considering a run are U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, Rep. Paul Thissen and Attorney General Lori Swanson.
No Republican has announced a run yet, but House Speaker Kurt Daudt, GOP Party Chairman Keith Downey, and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek are all said to be considering a bid.
With Walz departing the First District, the open seat will be a prime pickup opportunity for Republicans given their relative strength there.