DFLers gather in Duluth to endorse; Convention will further shape contest to succeed Rick Nolan

by Tom Coombe -

By the end of the weekend, there may be a little more clarity in a wide-open Congressional race in Minnesota’s Eighth District.
Democrats are set to gather Saturday in Duluth to endorse a candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D), who shook up the race earlier this year when he announced he would retire and not seek re-election.
This weekend’s convention seems certain to winnow the DFL field, but seems just as likely as only one act in a months-long scrum to determine the party’s candidate.
Two longshots for the endorsement, State. Rep. Jason Metsa and former Duluth television personality Michelle Lee, are on a path to the August primary.
Three other hopefuls - former FBI agent Leah Phifer, former State Rep. Joe Radinovich and North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy Hagen, have indicated they’ll abide by the endorsement.
Phifer, who was already mounting a challenge to Nolan before he bowed out, picked up strong support at party caucuses and a county convention in Ely and may be the front-runner for the endorsement.
She has been openly skeptical of proposed copper-nickel mining projects on the Iron Range and has generated support from anti-mining factions in the Ely area.
Phifer grew up in Two Harbors and has Ely family ties.
Phifer’s primary opposition for the endorsement appears to be Radinovich, Nolan’s one-time campaign manager.
The Brainerd area native has been more open to copper-nickel mining and aligns with Nolan on an array of traditional DFL issues including health care and education.
Hagen has not garnered much delegate support, according to anecdotal reports.
It takes at least 60 percent support of convention delegates for there to be an endorsement and a winning candidate, should one emerge, will have to pick off support from other candidates’ delegates.
There’s also a chance the convention could be “hung” and no endorsement will occur.
Both Metsa and Lee are working to gain the endorsement, but both have been most open to going on to the primary should either be unsuccessful.
They are split on the mining issue but in lockstep on several others.
Lee said she opposes copper-nickel mining in the area’s water-rich environment while Metsa has joined other area elected officials, including Nolan, in supporting the projects and the existing processes for permitting.
Regardless of the convention result, the primary seems almost certain to decide the DFL candidates.
The DFL nominee will advance to the general election to face Republican Pete Stauber of Hermantown and Green/Independence Party hopeful Skip Sandman.
In one of the most expensive contests in the nation, Nolan carried the district by less than a percentage point in 2016 over Republican challenger Stewart Mills.