Minnesota Democratic rep to retire, opening door for GOP

Minnesota Democratic rep to retire, opening door for GOP
© Greg Nash

Rep. Rick NolanRichard (Rick) Michael NolanMinnesota New Members 2019 Republicans pick up seat in Minnesota’s ‘Iron range’ How America’s urban-rural divide is changing the Democratic Party MORE (D-Minn.) has announced he will retire at the end of the year, giving Republicans a big boost in their hopes to win a seat they've been targeting for years.

Nolan announced his decision in a statement Friday morning saying he wanted to “pass the baton to the next generation.”

Nolan first joined Congress in 1975, serving three terms before successfully returning to Congress for the 2012 elections.

“With deep appreciation and thanks for allowing me to represent you in the Congress of the United States, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for reelection, and will retire at the end of the current term,” Nolan said.

"To be sure, I’m really going to miss representing the 8th District, but it is time for me to spend more time with my wonderful wife, Mary, our four fantastic adult children and their terrific spouses, and our 13 remarkable grandchildren. They have been incredibly patient and supportive. Now it’s time for me to respond in kind, and give them the attention they deserve and I want to give."

Local Minnesota outlets first reported Nolan's decision, which was confirmed by The Hill.

Nolan's popularity has provided Democrats the ability to win a seat in the Republican-leaning district — while President TrumpDonald John TrumpPaul Ryan defends Navy admiral after Trump's criticism Trump discussing visit overseas to troops following criticism: report Retired Army General: Trump is ‘acting like an 8th grader’ in attacking ex-Navy SEAL who led bin Laden operation MORE won the district by more than 15 points in 2016, Nolan won reelection by less than a percentage point.

So without Nolan running for reelection, Republicans will have a strong shot at flipping the seat. 

The top Republican in the race is Pete Stauber, a longtime policeman and former professional hockey player. He's raised $256,000 this cycle and has $136,600 on hand. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the House GOP's campaign arm, has designated him as part of its "Young Guns" program for promising recruits.

Nolan's candidacy had effectively boxed out the Democratic field, so it's likely that more Democratic candidates will now enter the race. Right now, the only Democrat in the race is Leah Phifer, a former Department of Homeland Security official, who had only raised $35,000 in 2017.

More candidates can file up until the June 5 deadline.

Matt Gorman, the NRCC's communications director, celebrated the retirement in a statement, adding that it “saved us the trouble of defeating him this fall.”

"We currently have one of the strongest recruits in the country, Pete Stauber, in the race who's garnering strong local support,” Gorman said in a statement.

“This seat was already one of our best pickup opportunities and we look forward to turning this seat Republican in November.”

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, issued a statement pushing back on GOP optimism. Lauding Nolan's service, Luján declared that Democrats will successfully defend his seat.

"Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District is a Democratic seat, and that certainly will not change in 2018. We look forward to electing another Democrat to represent the hardworking people of northern Minnesota, who can carry on Rick’s legacy," he said. 

Updated at 11:15 a.m.