Minnesota governor 2018: A who's who of possible candidates

Legislature opens
In this Jan. 8, 2013 file photo House Majority Leader Erin Murphy listens to comments during the first day of the legislative session at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2013

The break from politics in Minnesota is over. Let the 2018 race for governor begin.

Democratic Rep. Erin Murphy was the first to announce her gubernatorial bid in a contest that's expected to be a crowded battle as both parties aim to replace Gov. Mark Dayton, who has said he won't seek a third term.

Here are a few more names on what's likely to be a growing list as the months tick by.

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The Republicans

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt
Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt speaks at a press conference on Oct. 26, 2016.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News File

Kurt Daudt

Entering his second term as house speaker, Daudt gets Republican kudos for keeping a diverse caucus together and expanding the chamber's majority in the November election. His fast political ascent, from a freshman lawmaker in 2011 to speaker in 2015, makes him a top-tier candidate for the GOP nomination.

He had been cagey about any goals for higher office. But recently asked about a run for governor, he said: "At some point, I will probably look at that."

Rich Stanek

The Hennepin County sheriff is no stranger to state politics, having served in the House from 1995 until 2003.

He's brushed off questions about any gubernatorial ambitions, saying he's focused serving in the state's largest county. But he gave a speech at Minnesota Republican Party's convention earlier this year in which he stressed how he'd be appealing to Democrats and Republicans across the state.

Michelle Benson

A health care wonk, the state senator from Ham Lake likely will play a key role in the brewing legislative debate over fixing Minnesota's state-run exchange. She has some experience with the pressures of gubernatorial politics, serving as the running mate for state Sen. Dave Thompson in his bid for the Republican nomination in 2014.

But she won't declare anything about her prospects until at least May. "I'm not going to make any decisions until we get through this session," Benson said. "It is a huge commitment and not something taken lightly."

Keith Downey

The chairman of Minnesota's Republican Party has long been in the mix as a possible candidate. He served two terms in the state House before eventually making his way to party leadership, where he's tried to chip away at a massive debt built up during the 2010 governor's race.

Downey says he's not ruling anything out but is still weighing whether to run for a third term as party chair.

The Democrats

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson addressed reporters at a press conference July 1, 2015 in her office in St. Paul, Minn.
Alex Friedrich | MPR News 2015

Tina Smith

Few have had a more visible perch than the lieutenant governor, especially during Dayton's administration. Smith has been the face of a new paid family leave initiative for state employees, led the charge on early education expansion and served as a key business liaison.

A trip to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer convinced some Democrats she's preparing for a bid. Spokesman Linden Zakula says it's on the table but that Smith's focus is on the 2017 session.

Lori Swanson

The attorney general also is in the mix, given her easy victories to three terms, though she hasn't directly addressed the question. But former Democratic Rep. Ryan Winkler said during his AG campaign announcement that he'd aim for the office only if Swanson doesn't run for a fourth term, noting calls for Swanson to "pursue higher office."

Rebecca Otto

Otto, the state auditor, has been open about weighing a run in 2018 during the legal challenge against a new state law that curbs her office's power to oversee county finances. She'd follow a well-trodden path, as Dayton and former Gov. Arne Carlson did the same after serving as auditor.

"I don't know what tomorrow brings, but I do know right now that I'm putting my heart into this job," she said this fall.

Tom Bakk

The powerful lawmaker has clear gubernatorial ambitions, having run for the party's endorsement in 2010. But the November election may have dampened his political stock, as Democrats lost control of the chamber and Bakk was demoted to Senate minority leader.

A longtime legislator and former union carpenter from Cook, he previously stressed the difficulty of a rural politician getting enough support to get the party's nomination. Asked recently whether he would try again in 2018, Bakk said he was still considering a bid and would make a decision with his wife.

Chris Coleman

St. Paul's popular mayor is in his third term, but has long been in the mix, flirting with a gubernatorial run in 2010 before deciding against it. Spokeswoman Tonya Tennessen said Coleman is "strongly considering" a run in 2018 and will make his plans known before the end of the year.

The decision is linked with whether he pursues a fourth term in the city's 2017 election.