Minnesota attorney general jumps into governor’s race

Published 4:04 pm Monday, June 4, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Democratic Attorney General Lori Swanson jumped into the state’s crowded race for governor on Monday, just two days after being snubbed by party activists for re-election to her current job.

Swanson announced her plans just five months after passing up the race and just a day before the state’s filing deadline closed. In a surprise development, she was passed over at the party’s convention Saturday for endorsement to a fourth term as attorney general.

Swanson said that loss gave her time to consider her options. Though her opponent for attorney general portrayed her as too cautious, Swanson said she lost support because she was unwilling to take various pledges sought by activists.

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“I evaluated and decided to move forward this way,” she said during a news conference Monday at a downtown Minneapolis hotel.

She dubbed herself and her running mate, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan — who previously announced plans to retire from Congress this year — as “Minnesota’s Problem-Solving Ticket.”

Swanson’s entry makes for a crowded and potentially bruising Democratic primary in August, as Democrats try to hang on to the office when Gov. Mark Dayton leaves office. State Rep. Erin Murphy won the party’s endorsement over the weekend, though U.S. Rep. Tim Walz is also running in the primary.

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.

But above all, it creates a crowded primary for governor at a time when Democrats are struggling to unify behind different approaches in how they should seek to replace Dayton. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson clinched the Republican nod to run for governor, but Democrats expect they’ll face former two-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty in November.

The state’s Democratic party endorsed Murphy — who appealed to the party’s more liberal factions — over Walz, the longtime southwestern Minnesota Democrat who touted his campaign’s statewide appeal with a metropolitan Democratic running mate, Rep. Peggy Flanagan. State Auditor Rebecca Otto was also running but dropped out of the endorsement fight early Saturday. She suspended her campaign on Monday.

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.

But unrest with Swanson among the Democratic party’s more liberal factions led her to withdraw from the party’s endorsement for attorney general — and the same forces could be a factor in the governor’s race.

Matt Pelikan, a little-known Democratic activist and attorney who clinched the party’s nod for attorney general, criticized Swanson as too cautious when it comes to challenging the National Rifle Association and for quietly dropping a lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

Democratic activists packed inside a Rochester convention hall roared when Pelikan narrowly trailed Swanson after the first round of voting. Swanson pulled out soon after.

“Democrats are ready for strong, authentic progressives,” Pelikan said.