Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), who came to Congress in the wake of Watergate and then took a three-decade hiatus, announced Friday that he will not seek reelection in November, leaving behind a competitive rural district that President Trump won handily.
Nolan, 74, had won three straight elections in Minnesota’s Iron Range, the northern tier that was once a mining and manufacturing home to union workers loyal to the state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leaders. The state’s 8th Congressional District — which Trump won by more than 16 percentage points, after Barack Obama carried it twice before — is now among the few potential pickups for Republicans in November.
“Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District is a Democratic seat, and that certainly will not change in 2018. We look forward to electing another Democrat to represent the hard-working people of northern Minnesota, who can carry on Rick’s legacy,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement after Nolan’s announcement.
“This seat was already one of our best pickup opportunities and we look forward to turning this seat Republican in November,” Matt Gorman, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement.
Nolan’s departure is the latest move that makes Minnesota one of the most intriguing battlegrounds in the nation for the 2018 midterms. On paper, the state has four House districts that will be competitive, including two Republican seats in the Twin Cities suburbs and a Democratic seat along the southern portion of the state.
Also, following Al Franken’s resignation, appointed Sen. Tina Smith (D) must face voters to secure the remaining years of Franken’s term. And there is an open race for governor that seemed to be favoring Democrats until former Republican governor Tim Pawlenty quit his job as a top bank lobbyist in Washington amid speculation he is preparing to run for his old job.
If one party can sweep most of those races, it is likely to be in the driver’s seat for holding congressional majorities and controlling governor’s mansions around the nation.
Nolan won his first House race in 1974, part of a massive, historic class of Democrats that went on to reshape how Congress functioned. He retired in 1980 after three terms and returned to the private sector, only to come out of political retirement in 2012 to win back a congressional seat that Republicans had taken two years earlier when they knocked off another Iron Range Democrat, Jim Oberstar.
With Nolan’s retirement, he will be the last “Watergate Baby” to serve in the House. Only Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who won his first Senate race in 1974, remains from that election year.