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Rick Nolan, a three-term Democratic congressman from Minn., says he won't run for re-election

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, that he is retiring at the end of the current term. File photo / Forum News Service

DULUTH -- U.S. Rep Rick Nolan is retiring at the end of the current term, he announced Friday morning, Feb. 9 — a major shakeup in what already was shaping up to be one of the most competitive congressional races in the nation this year.

Nolan is in his third term representing Northeastern Minnesota's 8th District in Congress; he previously served in Congress from Minnesota's 6th District from 1975-81. He had previously stated that he would run for re-election this year.

"With deep appreciation and thanks for allowing me to represent you in the Congress of the United States, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for re-election, and will retire at the end of the current term," Nolan said in a statement.

"The gratitude and affection I have for all of you here in Northern Minnesota is beyond my ability to express in words. Make no mistake – I love my work representing you in the Congress, and the decision to leave is agonizing to say the least – especially when thinking of all the many volunteers, contributors, party leaders, colleagues, supporters – and of course the voters – who have all meant so much to our success. ...

"Having said that, there is a time and a purpose for everything and now is the time for me to pass the baton to the next generation. To be sure, I’m really going to miss representing the 8th District, but it is time for me to spend more time with my wonderful wife, Mary, our four fantastic adult children and their terrific spouses, and our 13 remarkable grandchildren."

Nolan was being challenged for the Democratic nomination this year by Leah Phifer, a political newcomer. If nominated, he would have faced a Republican challenge in the general election from St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber.

A third candidate, Ray "Skip" Sandman, is seeking an endorsement from the Independence Party.

Nolan had previously announced he would run for re-election; in October, he named now-former Duluth School Board member Annie Harala as his campaign manager.

"Clearly, this race will once again be one of the toughest, most expensive and most closely watched in the nation," Nolan said at the time.

The 8th District had long been a Democratic stronghold, but changing demographics, political views and district boundaries have turned it into one of the most competitive seats in the nation in recent elections.

Republican Chip Cravaack ousted longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010. Two years later, Nolan defeated Cravaack to return the seat to DFL control.

In 2014 and 2016, Nolan eked out narrow wins over Republican challenger Stewart Mills.

Friday’s news prompted a flurry of responses.

“Congressman Nolan has been a champion for single-payer health care and campaign finance reform, amongst many other progressive issues, for a very long time," Phifer said in a statement, saying she wants to carry on that legacy and "looks forward to broadening her support to present the strongest case against the GOP candidate in November."

Former Duluth Mayor Don Ness posted on Twitter that Nolan "is a good man who struggled against the brokenness of federal governance, yet kept fighting for working men and women in Minnesota."

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico said that Nolan "has served the people of Minnesota with dignity, independence and grit, and I am deeply grateful for his service. Rick is a close friend and I know he will continue his dedicated work to the people of Minnesota for the remainder of this year. Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District is a Democratic seat, and that certainly will not change in 2018. We look forward to electing another Democrat to represent the hardworking people of northern Minnesota, who can carry on Rick’s legacy.”

The Republican Party of Minnesota issued a statement saying that “news of an open seat in Minnesota's 8th District is yet another boost to Republican prospects in 2018. Minnesota's 8th District was already a top pickup opportunity in the country for national Republicans, and today's news positions 8th District Republicans like Pete Stauber in an even stronger position.”