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DFL late arrivals fill out 8th District race; Independence Party candidate also joins fray

DULUTH—Sometime after announcing his retirement from Congress last February, Rep. Rick Nolan called a handful of Democratic-Farmer-Labor hopefuls in the 8th Congressional District to encourage them as would-be replacements.

By the end of candidate filing on Tuesday, June 5, those calls materialized into a wide-open DFL primary race.

One of the Nolan calls went to his former campaign manager, Joe Radinovich, who filed for his chance at Nolan's now open seat on deadline day to file to run for state or federal office.

Another of Nolan's calls went to Kirsten Kennedy, the North Branch mayor who also filed at the deadline.

"The CD8 needs someone new who can bring all voices together at the table, from our First Nations to our senior citizens to our farmers to our environmentalists — each and every one of us," Kennedy said. "I have no doubt that I am the best candidate to do that."

And yet another Nolan call went to Jason Metsa, who'd filed in May.

"(Nolan) spoke with people he felt comfortable with moving forward," Metsa said Sunday in Cloquet, where his campaign had stopped for a small gathering. "He was saying to us, 'I think you're an up-and-coming leader.' "

Outside of the major parties, Ray "Skip" Sandman also filed to run in the 8th District — submitting more than 1,000 signatures on a petition required of third-party and independent candidates. Sandman, of Duluth, is running as the endorsed candidate of the state's Independence Party.  His name had yet to appear on the secretary of state candidate registry as of the close of business Tuesday.

"We did it!" said Sandman, who thanked volunteers for collecting signatures the past two weeks. "We were well over the limit that was needed."

Metsa likened the round of calls from Nolan earlier this year to the congressman planting seeds in advance of the August primary and November midterm election.

"So the voters could ultimately decide," Metsa said. "So they could pick who they thought was best."

And so they will — Aug. 14, when both the DFL and GOP contenders face primaries. Republican endorsee Pete Stauber drew a challenge from Duluth's Harry Welty earlier this week. Kennedy, Metsa and Radinovich will be joined by Michelle Lee and Soren Sorensen in the DFL primary.

Sandman is the only candidate who has secured a spot on the November ballot given the fact he doesn't face a primary.

Late arrival

Sorensen beat the deadline Tuesday to file for candidacy in the 8th District, requiring a rental car to get to St. Paul after a traffic crash, said the Bemidji resident.

Sorensen is a longtime DFL activist within the party, he said, and someone who supported both Rick Nolan historically and the Leah Phifer campaign more recently. Phifer ended her campaign for office in the 8th District in April after a strong but failed endorsement bid at the district's DFL convention in Duluth.

With Phifer out, Sorensen said he saw an opening to represent the northwoods and indigenous communities.

"I don't know anybody who knows Joe Radinovich or Jason Metsa," Sorensen said, making the point that the CD8 DFL primary was bereft of a well-known frontrunner. "I know what it's going to take and I'm going to focus on the meeting people across the whole district."

A part-time hotel worker who is educated in botany and computer science, Sorensen was planning on a run for the state House. With an endorsed District 2A candidate locally, he turned to the open seat in the 8th District race, where he hopes to combat outside interests.

"I think we can do better," Sorensen said. "What we need is a campaign dedicated to the issues of of poor people and working people and not dominated by money from outside the district. That's always the fight. There's a lot of money and the only way to defeat money is if regular working class poor people can keep our agreements with each other."

Radinovich poll

Radinovich followed up his official entry into the 8th District race by releasing on Tuesday the results of a self-published poll, conducted by his campaign, which indicated he was the leading DFL challenger by a percentage point — and the candidate with the strongest support in both Duluth and Twin Cities markets.

"Out of the gate, it's been clear that people are looking for a representative who understands the district and is ready to fight on their behalf," Radinovich said in the news release, before adding he'll help families adapt to a changing economy.

Lee, of Moose Lake, said Tuesday she would beat Stauber in the general election, and alluded to the primary being a tougher race. The Radinovich campaign poll "of 400 likely DFL voters," put Lee running second.

"I look forward to fighting on behalf of hardworking people who too often have been left behind," Radinovich said in a tweet after filing. Radinovich, of Crosby, recently spent time touring the 18 counties in the district.

Legislative work

Metsa said he was finally touring the district after first having to conclude the Minnesota legislative session as a representative from the city of Virginia.

"You feel like you're fighting with your hand tied behind your back a little bit," Metsa said. "But I was passionate about sticking to the job I had to get done and doing the best I could."

As he and other lawmakers worked on a bonding bill and other priorities, Metsa's campaign rounded up some of the race's biggest endorsements to date, including one last week from Duluth Mayor Emily Larson.

Metsa made a campaign stop in Hibbing on Tuesday before visits to Walker and North Branch later in the week. He said in an interview he didn't expect Nolan, who joined the Lori Swanson for governor ticket on Monday as her running mate, to endorse anyone in the 8th Congressional District race.

"He'll let the voters decide the election," Metsa said. "We're just excited to get out there and keep earning support from people."