Entenza withdraws from AG race; sets off DFL scramble

Entenza drops out
Matt Entenza announced Tuesday he is dropping out of the race for state attorney general.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

At a news conference on the Capitol steps, Matt Entenza stood by his wife and said he was dropping out of the race. Entenza said he was confident he could win, but was worried his candidacy would damage the entire DFL ticket in November.

"Fighting for important issues is one things. Fighting in politics is quite another," said Entenza. "While I'm confident that I could win the race for attorney general, obviously in this environment, staying in the race could hurt the Democratic Party and the progressive issues I care about so deeply."

Running for her boss' job
Lori Swanson, a top deputy to current Attorney General Mike Hatch, has decided to run for the top job. She filed her candidacy shortly after Matt Entenza withdrew from the race Tuesday.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Entenza's announcement comes just one week after it was reported that he hired a private researcher to look into Attorney General Mike Hatch, who's running for governor.

Entenza said he hired the researcher because he wanted to get more information about the inner workings on the office. He later said the researcher went above and beyond his duties when he looked into a parking ticket Hatch received in Dakota County.

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That investigation created bad blood between the two DFLers. The Star Tribune reported last week that Hatch was recruiting DFLers to run against Entenza in the primary.

With Entenza out, Hatch got his wish. One of the candidates who quickly jumped into the race is Minnesota's Solicitor General Lori Swanson, one of Hatch's top deputies. She says if elected, she'll continue Hatch's legacy of working on consumer protection issues like health care.

Kelley files for attorney general
State Sen. Steve Kelley filed his candidacy for attorney general Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the deadline. He is one of five DFLers now seeking the office. Earlier in the year, Kelley was in the race for governor.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"I'm running to carry on that work, to continue that work. I've been involved in health care reform, whether it be our investigations of hospitals on their pricing practices, whether it be insurance companies that deny benefits for mentally ill kids," said Swanson. "Those are the kinds of cases that I've worked on over the last seven and a half years, and those are the kind of cases that I'd love to keep working on for the people of Minnesota as attorney general."

Critics questioned whether Entenza would have the ability to oversee health care companies, since his wife Lois Quam heads a UnitedHealth Group unit that provides insurance for retirees. Quam has exercised millions of dollars in stock options at a time when executive compensation is under scrutiny.

One of the other DFLers in the race, St. Paul attorney Jennifer Mattson, was one of those who questioned Entenza's ability to be objective. The others who have filed include State Sen. Steve Kelley -- who had earlier been in the race for governor -- former U.S. Rep. Bill Luther and Patrick Cotter of St. Paul.

Mattson, who decided to run against Entenza when he was still in the race, says she's pleased Entenza stepped aside. She says her campaign will focus on making the office independent of outside interests.

Luther returns to politics
Former U.S. Rep. Bill Luther has returned to the political ring by becoming a candidate for state attorney general. Luther, a DFLer, has been out of politics since 2002, when he was defeated for re-election to Congress by Republican John Kline.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"They have to be free of any party influence, corporate interests, lobbyists. They have to stay away from being compromised," said Mattson. "So I'm going to really talk, over the next coming weeks, about my political independence and courage."

DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez says the party's central committee will meet in mid-August to endorse a candidate. He says the committee will look for a candidate who is well-known in DFL circles.

"I don't think the party is going to get behind anyone who is brand new, unknown and untested," said Melendez. "I think the names you see will be people who have been through the mill before, and are solid and reputable names."

Melendez says the party will also work to portray Republican Jeff Johnson as someone who is a friend to business at the expense of average Minnesotans.

Johnson, the Republican endorsed candidate for attorney general, says Entenza's decision has little impact on his campaign. Johnson says one benefit is that he won't have to raise as much money, since Entenza's personal wealth is no longer a factor. "We were probably putting a little more of an emphasis than we wanted to, and that might not be necessary going forward," said Johnson. But that is the only piece I see changing. Otherwise the message and the plan stay exactly the same."

Johnson says his campaign will focus on public safety. He faces a Republican primary challenge from frequent candidate Sharon Anderson.

The endorsed Independence Party candidate is John James, who faces a primary battle with Dale Nathan.