Minnesota Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan announced Friday he won’t seek re-election, handing Republicans a rare opportunity to pick up a seat this fall.
“There is a time and a purpose for everything and now is the time for me to pass the baton to the next generation,” Nolan said in a statement.
Nolan won re-election by about 2,000 votes in 2016, but northeastern Minnesota’s 8th District is Donald Trump country: The President won the district by 16 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. That was an incredible 22-point swing for the GOP over the 2012 election results, when Barack Obama won the district by six points.
The seat was already a top target for the GOP, which sees opportunities to go on offense in Minnesota while defending its incumbents elsewhere across the 2018 map.
Republicans landed a top-tier candidate in Pete Stauber, a former professional hockey player turned police officer and co-owner of the Duluth Hockey Company and whose wife is an Iraq War veteran.
“This seat was already one of our best pickup opportunities and we look forward to turning this seat Republican in November,” said Matt Gorman, the communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Nolan’s decision to retire is a stunning reversal. He’d previously passed on the Minnesota governor’s race, telling reporters he felt pressure to keep his district in Democratic hands. Nolan’s daughter, who lives in Roseville, Minnesota, has been fighting cancer for three years.
Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar had held the seat for three decades before losing in the Republican wave election of 2010 to former Rep. Chip Cravaack. Cravaack then lost to Nolan in 2012.
The 74-year-old Nolan served in Congress twice – with a massive gap in between. He was in office from 1975 to 1981, and then again starting in 2013.