As Dean Phillips opts against another congressional run, a pair of Minnesota races could turn competitive

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Both Republicans and Democrats are shifting their strategies after Dean Phillips announced on Friday he will not be seeking reelection in Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Updated 11 a.m.

Two Minnesota congressional seats flipped by Democrats in 2018 are shaping up as races to watch again next year, with one newly elevated by the announcement that Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips won’t try for a fourth term.

The west suburban district could land on the map of competitive seats in the broader race for control of the U.S. House. Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District race is already there as Democratic Rep. Angie Craig looks to remain in that seat covering many southern Twin Cities suburbs, exurbs and rural areas.

Both Republicans and Democrats are evaluating the changed landscape following Phillips’ decision that he will not seek reelection in Minnesota's 3rd Congressional district. Phillips said he’ll instead focus entirely on his run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Other Democrats have already stepped forward and Republicans expect serious contenders as well for that party’s nomination.

The 2nd and 3rd Districts have been in Democratic control since the 2018 election ended a long run of Republican dominance in both areas. Voters sour toward then-President Donald Trump helped DFL candidates pull off the shift. New boundaries from the 2020 redistricting gave Democrats more comfort in the 3rd, but it’s hardly a lock.

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Before Phillips announced his bid for the presidency, only the 2nd District was seen as truly competitive after being decided by single digits in the prior four elections.

In her latest race, DFL Rep. Angie Craig faces three Republican challengers in the 2nd Congressional District. The south Twin Cities district was a major battleground in 2022 with high campaign spending. Craig won by about 5 percentage points.

Democratic Representative
U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips holds a rally outside of the N.H. Statehouse after handing over his declaration of candidacy form for President to the New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, on Oct. 27 in Concord, New Hampshire.
Gaelen Morse | Getty Images file

Now that Phillips has announced he will not run for reelection, his seat could attract more interest and outside spending, too.

The 3rd District includes suburbs west of Minneapolis and other communities in western Hennepin and Anoka counties. It had been trending away from Republicans; President Joe Biden won in Phillips' district by 19 points. But DFL Chair Ken Martin has said he sees it as a “a decidedly purple district that will take a lot of time, energy and money to defend and to keep in Democratic hands.”

At the same time, University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson said the 2nd District remains more closely divided.

"Angie Craig remains Democrats' and Republicans' top priority in Minnesota. Will there be more attention on the 3rd than there would have been otherwise by the parties? Yes,” Pearson said. “But the 2nd District remains the focus because it is a more competitive district."

Former federal prosecutor Joe Teirab, Burnsville criminal defense lawyer Tayler Rahm and former Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy are all running against Craig.

Angie Craig
U.S. Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota’s 2nd District, talks to supporters at her watch party in Savage, Minn. after winning reelection.
Tim Evans for MPR News 2022

While Hamline University political science professor David Schultz also agrees it's likely the Third Congressional district will elect another Democrat, he said Phillip's decision has forced everyone to shift their strategies.

"It makes it a competitive seat that again forces Democrats to have to spend money and time on that they would not otherwise probably have had to worry about,” Schultz said.

Because the Republicans have such a narrow majority in the House, Schultz said any seat that opens up from now on is an opportunity for both parties.

"The Republicans are looking at this saying, maybe we can pick this one up, or if we can't pick this one up, force the Democrats to have to put money into this race, which then is potentially one less dollar it can put into Angie Craig's race," Schultz said.

Pearson said she believes Phillip's decision to drop out of the race before the New Hampshire primary will give Democrats more time to prepare and fundraise.

"There will still be a contested primary, but it avoids some of the messiness of having a contested primary with an incumbent,” she said. “So it'll be a contested primary but in an open seat. That's the norm."

State Sen. Kelly Morrison, a practicing OB-GYN, and Democratic National Committee member and former Minneapolis city official Ron Harris have both announced bids for the 3rd District seat. Others, including Secretary of State Steve Simon, said they’ll consider running.

The Republican Party of Minnesota issued a statement on Friday saying they have been in touch with several individuals who are weighing bids.

One Republican opened a campaign committee in October. Dock and boat lift business owner Blaize Harty of Plymouth is a first-time political candidate who says in his online biography that he “aims to bring about change and ensure a brighter future for the average American. In his unwavering dedication, he exemplifies the qualities needed in today’s political landscape, offering hope for a better tomorrow.”