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Leader in DFL convention delegates for Nolan seat may not file for primary

Leah Phifer Submitted photo

DULUTH—The leader in delegate voting throughout last weekend's 8th Congressional District DFL convention may not be moving to the primary this summer.

Leah Phifer said on Monday she will take the next two weeks off from campaigning and fundraising to decide whether to file for the primary.

"We're giving ourselves until the end of April," she said. "We want to do what's best for the district."

Phifer won on all 10 delegate ballots at Saturday's convention in Duluth, but she fell short of the 60 percent delegate threshold the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party requires for endorsement — topping out at 52 percent. Phifer explained her candidacy was always reliant on and respectful of an endorsement and that she never planned to go to a primary.

Multiple delegates spoke at the convention to caution the DFL party against leaving without a nominee, saying if forced to go to a primary the party risked handing the November election to Republican Pete Stauber. But Stauber, who has been campaigning and fundraising since last summer, said he's not looking at it that way.

"The DFL candidate will come out of the competitive primary in August and we will focus on whomever that is when the time comes," Stauber said. "Until then, I'm focused on on our endorsing convention in Park Rapids."

The 8th District Republican Party meets May 5 at Park Rapids High School to determine its candidate. Stauber, of Hermantown, said he's not being presumptuous about the endorsement even though he has no challengers to date. Stauber's campaign would appear to be gaining steam. It was set to report more than $270,000 in campaign finance earnings on Monday to the Federal Election Commission for the first quarter of 2018. To date the campaign has raised more than a half-million dollars.

"I'm calling delegates; we're meeting and talking with them about what we stand for and it's resonating," Stauber said. "They appreciate the blue-collar, common-sense conservative message."

Back on the DFL side, Phifer's hesitance in going forward would only seem to exacerbate the DFL's position.

While Phifer's supporters appear ardent, stiff opposition to her candidacy had been brewing throughout the weeks leading up to the 8th DFL convention. The DFL Latino Caucus asked for the party to deny Phifer the endorsement for starting her 10-year federal law enforcement career with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Latino Caucus blames ICE for breaking up families, and said in a letter that Phifer's association with ICE "goes against the values of the DFL."

Other, seemingly pettier controversies that have gone unreported have arisen as well. Phifer, of Isanti, said she believes she's paying a price for challenging incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan and that some blame her for pressing Nolan into retirement at the end of the term. Nolan endorsed her closest challenger, Joe Radinovich, of Crosby, with a statement midway through the weekend's convention.

"You may have observed some of the dynamics playing out in the district — something we've been up against for a while," Phifer said. "I think people who didn't want Congressman Nolan to retire partially blame me for that. They've teamed up with people outside the district to provide a front that's distracting from the real issues in the 8th District. I don't want that. There are very real issues affecting the district."

Radinovich, State Rep. Jason Metsa, of Virginia, Michelle Lee, of Moose Lake, and North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy have all said they will take their campaigns into the August 14 DFL primary election.

Radinovich and Metsa both raised more than Phifer in the most recent quarterly campaign finance figures, which were solicited last week.

Metsa ($125,000) and Radinovich ($108,000) more than doubled the amount Phifer's campaign was expected to report, which was just shy of $47,000. Last week, Phifer's campaign said it had raised $90,000, but that figure included the last quarter of 2017 as well.

"It was not a deception on our part," said Phifer, who apologized for the erroneous report. "It was such an insane week with all of the requests coming in, (we) didn't read it closely enough."

Neither Kennedy's nor Lee's camps would report its quarter one fundraising totals. Both Lee and Kennedy received paltry delegate support and fell off the endorsement ballot after a single round on Saturday. But Lee met the press on Monday in downtown Duluth to hammer home her intent to continue her campaign.

"This election is more than a battle for a single legislative seat in Congress," Lee said. "It's your chance to send a representative to Washington who doesn't have any special-interest, big-money, consult-driven lobbying force behind her — who will arrive with a new class of representatives who believes the time truly has come to forge a new American spirit."

Candidates filing for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives can do so from May 22 until June 5, said the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State website.

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