Swanson jumps into DFL governor's race with Rep. Nolan as running mate

Minnesota attorney general Lori Swanson and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.
Minnesota attorney general Lori Swanson, who's running for governor, and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, her running mate, share a joke during a press conference at the Marquette Hotel in Minneapolis on June 4, 2018.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Updated 4 p.m. | Posted 2:08 p.m.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson threw a wild card into the race for governor Monday, saying she'll run against state Rep. Erin Murphy and U.S. House Rep. Tim Walz in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary.

She'll be joined on the ticket by retiring U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

"Together, joining forces, we intend to solve problems for the people of Minnesota and work on things like jobs and health care and education," Swanson told reporters Monday with Nolan by her side.

"Our goal is to put an end to the partisan divides and divisions and gridlock," Nolan added, "and to offer the people of the state of Minnesota a problem-solvers administration."

The move comes just days after Minnesota Democrats refused to endorse Swanson during the party's state convention in Rochester, instead choosing Minneapolis attorney and DFL activist Matt Pelikan.

Pelikan won after a strong showing on the first ballot, when he got 47 percent of the vote to Swanson's 52 percent. After the first ballot, Swanson withdrew from the race for the endorsement.

Swanson had made consumer causes one of her top priorities in her terms as attorney general. Pelikan, however, ran to Swanson's left, noting a 2010 National Rifle Association endorsement of her campaign.

He also criticized her role in several high-profile lawsuits, saying she quietly dropped a lawsuit against the Trump administration's travel ban, jumped in too late to a lawsuit against drug companies accused of being responsible for the opioid epidemic, and settled for too little in an environmental lawsuit against 3M, which netted $850 million for the state.

Swanson had weighed a governor's race earlier this year but eventually filed to run for a third term as attorney general.

Asked why she jumped in now to the governor's race, Swanson pointed to the calls by DFL activists during the weekend convention that she make specific promises to earn the endorsement.

"One of the things I did in this campaign is not take any pledges, fill out any of those questionnaires," she said. "I'm going to make one pledge and that's a pledge to the people of Minnesota to put their interests first."

Swanson and Nolan didn't detail the main issues they intend to run on during the campaign, speaking in general terms about the need to create jobs and check health care and education costs.

Nolan noted that he and Swanson are "both strong supporters of the Second Amendment" but that they also agreed on "a number of gun safety issues" they hope to get through the Legislature.

Swanson, 51, was elected attorney general in 2006, and re-elected in 2010 and 2014. From 2003 to 2006, she served as the state's solicitor general and as deputy attorney general from 1999 to 2002.

She said on Monday she would not endorse a candidate to replace her as attorney general, a race that now could end up as wild and as intriguing as the race for governor.

Former Minnesota attorney general Mike Hatch said he was weighing his options but wouldn't say if he'd run. The filing deadline is Tuesday.

Nolan in February announced his plans to retire from Congress and not seek re-election to northeastern Minnesota's 8th Congressional District.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan announces his role as Swanson's running mate.
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan answers questions regarding his role as the running mate to Lori Swanson.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Asked about his potential next step in politics now, Nolan said he met with Swanson on Sunday and made his decision early Monday morning to be Swanson's lieutenant governor candidate.

Swanson's call, he said, was a "compelling request."

Murphy, the DFL-endorsed candidate for governor, said that endorsement will be critically important to her success and gives her the muscle needed to win the primary.

"And yes, others have decided to get in, and that is their choice," she said. "It will make me a stronger candidate and it will prepare me for the general election."

Walz said he would also "welcome any newcomers to this race" and noted that Nolan had endorsed his friend and colleague for the governor.

"As some chaos occurs in the political world," he said in a statement, "we are keeping our heads down, continuing to work hard, and getting our message out to all four corners of this great state."

It's still possible other Democrats and Republicans could file to run, but the filing deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday.

One of the state's most prominent DFLers said Monday he would not be jumping into the governor's race.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he was "totally focused" on flipping control of the Senate back to Democrats. The uncertainty of the governor's race, he added, could make the Senate the "only safety valve."

MPR News reporters Brian Bakst and Tim Nelson contributed to this report.

Watch the Swanson-Nolan press conference