ST. PAUL, Minn. – Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan announced Friday he would skip another uphill climb to re-election and retire from his northeastern Minnesota congressional seat, leaving a wide-open race in a swing district that has attracted tens of millions of dollars in outside spending in recent elections.
Nolan narrowly won three terms in the 8th District starting in 2012, reviving a career in Congress that began with a stint in the 1970s. But he faced another certain barrage from Republicans who see a chance to win one of a few Democratic districts that President Donald Trump won.
Nolan, a moderate Democrat with deep ties to the state’s labor-minded Iron Range, also faced increasing pressure from environmentally minded Democrats trying to block new mining projects in the region.
In a statement announcing his retirement, Nolan said “now is the time for me to pass the baton to the next generation.”
“Fortunately, we are blessed to have a number of highly qualified people who have demonstrated the ability to win tough elections and govern effectively,” he said.
Nolan did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking an interview.
One Democrat was already running against Nolan. Leah Phifer, a former FBI counterterrorism analyst, was preparing for an endorsement battle shaped by her criticism of Nolan’s push to expedite mining projects on the Iron Range.
Other Democrats are likely to enter the race.
Pete Stauber, a St. Louis County commissioner and retired Duluth police officer, is running on the Republican side.
Long considered a labor-controlled and liberal stronghold, the 8th District has trended toward Republicans in the past decade. Nolan eked out a win for a third term in 2016 while Trump carried the district by 15 percentage points.
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