Former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman ended his campaign for governor Monday following a poor showing in a party straw poll last week, further narrowing the DFL field in an open race with high stakes for both political parties.
“For the past 15 months, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to travel to every area of Minnesota and meet with people from all different walks of life. I am grateful for the support and encouragement I have received,” said Coleman, who left office at the beginning of January after three terms as mayor.
“Hearing your stories, your hopes and fears, was an inspiration,” said Coleman, his political future now uncertain after more than a decade as a prominent architect of and cheerleader for the renewed vitality of St. Paul.
Coleman’s departure is the latest clarifying development on the DFL side of the governor’s race. Attorney General Lori Swanson announced recently that she would run for re-election instead of running for governor; campaign finance reports showed a significant cash advantage for U.S. Rep. Tim Walz of Mankato; and Walz won a commanding victory in the recent caucus straw poll of more than 30,000 DFLers.
For DFL insiders, Coleman’s decision offers some relief by diminishing the chance for a major DFL battle in the August primary. The second- and third-place finishers in the straw poll, State Auditor Rebecca Otto and state Rep. Erin Murphy, have committed to abiding by the endorsement of DFL delegates at their June state convention, meaning they wouldn’t run in the primary without it. Both Coleman and Swanson had been seen as more likely to mount primary campaigns.
With two-term DFL Gov. Mark Dayton not running again, both parties view this year’s race as a chance to seize the executive branch of state government. Besides leading a workforce of more than 30,000 employees, the governor also shapes the state’s policy on everything from the tax code to environment and health regulations.
If Republicans win the governor’s race in November, it’s likely the party would also retain its majorities in the Legislature. That would mean full control of state government for the first time in nearly half a century, just ahead of the 2020 census and the redrawing of congressional and legislative district lines.
The current leading Republican candidates are Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, former Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey and Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens. The wild card is former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is actively considering a comeback attempt. On Monday, Pawlenty met privately with potential campaign contributors and political supporters to discuss another run for governor.
“The turnout and excitement at the meeting was encouraging,” said Brian McClung, a longtime aide and adviser to the former two-term governor. “We take it as a very positive sign. [Pawlenty] is continuing to talk with Minnesotans as he considers a run for governor.”
Among DFLers, Otto is seeking to unify the party’s progressive base at the state convention. Walz’s supporters are touting what they believe is his superior shot at winning in the fall election with a simple motto: “Walz or Wisconsin.” The tagline refers to the prospect of Republicans taking full control of state government and moving in the direction of Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, meaning hostility to labor unions as well as lower taxes and spending.
Coleman had hoped to be the candidate who could appeal to middle- and working-class voters with a message of economic security. He racked up endorsements from some building trades unions and raised an impressive $600,000 last year, second only to Walz in fundraising.
Coleman’s tenure as mayor brought a bevy of high-profile projects to St. Paul, including CHS Field, the Palace Theatre, Minnesota United’s soccer stadium, the Penfield apartments, an Ordway expansion and the Green Line light rail.
But his disappointing fourth-place finish in the recent DFL caucus straw poll — behind Walz, Otto and Murphy — made any path to the nomination unlikely.
Despite name recognition in the Twin Cities and an everyman persona that incorporated craft beer and hockey, Coleman’s campaign never took off.
Coleman did not endorse any of his competitors. But he offered clues as to what he would look for in a DFL nominee.
“I encourage each of you to stay true to our shared progressive values: good jobs for working families, universal health care and a retirement that we can all depend on,” he said. “In a time of growing wealth inequality, we must continue to remind Minnesotans that economic security is what the DFL has always stood for.”
J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042