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2 congressmen for governor? 'Room for everyone'

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan talks to people attending a pension rally Tuesday, May 9, 2017, in the Minnesota Capitol. He is thinking about running for governor. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 4
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan delivers a Tuesday, May 9, 2017, speech in favor of federal pension protections. In the background holding up a sign is U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who is running for Minnesota governor. Nolan is thinking about running. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 4
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz delivers a speech Tuesday, May 9, 2017, supporting federal legislation to protect union members' pensions. He is running for Minnesota governor. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 4
U.S. Reps. Rick Nolan, left, and Tim Walz bump fists at a pension rally Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Walz is running for Minnesota governor and Nolan is thinking about it. Don Davis / Forum News Service4 / 4

ST. PAUL — U.S. Reps. Rick Nolan and Tim Walz tried a fist bump, looking rather awkward, in front of a couple hundred people rallying in favor or pension protections, but there was nothing awkward between the two men who could find themselves opponents in a race for governor.

In Tuesday, May 9, interviews, neither said there would be a problem with two congressmen running for the state's highest office.

"I think there is room for everybody," Walz said.

Walz is running for governor next year. Nolan said he will decide later this year if he will enter what already is becoming a crowded Democratic race with Walz and others.

Other than the aborted fist bump in the Minnesota Capitol rotunda, the pair showed signs of being friends by putting hands on each other's shoulders and, more importantly, telling the pension rally mostly the same things.

"We are totally aligned on a lot of the issues," Walz said.

Walz and Nolan are being watched carefully in the 2018 governor race both because they are well-known congressmen and the fact they are from rural Minnesota, which is expected to be a battleground. The rural spotlight intensified in November's election as Republicans took over the state Senate, strengthened their hold in the House and Donald Trump made the best Minnesota Republican presidential showing in years.

"I am sure part of the narrative is it is going to take someone from the rural area to win the governorship," Nolan said.

That is fine with him because his current congressional district covers much of north-central, northeast and east-central Minnesota. In a previous time in the House, his district stretched from north central Minnesota southwest to Iowa and the Dakotas. Nolan said he probably has represented two-thirds of the state during his two stints as congressman.

Walz serves southern Minnesota, and is not so well known in other areas. So he already is going from "Starbuck to Chisholm," he said, to get to know voters. "I think it is important at this stage of the race for me to get to know them."

Walz agreed that rural votes will be important, but added: "I don't think this is strictly the case of outstate vs. metro alone."

Still, he said, Democrats have work to do in rural areas.

"We have not had a message that resonates as good as it should have..." Walz said. "I absolutely agree there are votes to be got there."

People in rural Minnesota "feel a little bit neglected," Walz added, so it will be healthy for candidates to talk about those regions.

Nolan is not quite ready to get into the governor's race. He said that budget, health care and other issues in Congress have taken so much of his time that he has not been able to consult with enough Minnesotans.

"When I seek the advice and counsel of others, I just tend to make better decisions," he said.

He wants to talk to Walz, Gov. Mark Dayton and former Vice President Walter Mondale, among others, he said, predicting a summer decision.

There are some factors that could keep him from running for governor.

One is his age, 73.

"There are some mornings that I get up — that could keep me from getting into the race more than anything," he said, adding that with a campaign and a four-year term it is a six-year commitment.

Dayton, who is 70, often makes quips about the difficulty of being governor at his age.

"I am ready," Nolan said. "I am better prepared than at any point in my life. If I were 10 years younger, there would be no doubt I would be running. At my age, that is something you have to think about."

The second factor Nolan thinks a lot about is what would happen to his U.S. House district.

While polls show he would win re-election, Nolan said, generic polls show that a Republican could beat a Democrat in the 8th Congressional District. And, he said, he does not want to be responsible for Democrats falling just short of taking control of the House.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.