First District Rep. Tim Walz is running for governor.

In an interview with the Post Bulletin this morning, Walz said that after months of considering a possible bid, he has decided to run in 2018. The Mankato Democrat said he believes he has shown during his years in Congress he can work across the aisle to get things done.

"I think now more than ever people are just wanting (government) to work. They are not looking for the partisanship. They are not looking for me to have all the answers, but they are certainly looking for me to bring people together to find those solutions that we all know are there," he said.

The congressman and his family are headed to St. Paul today to officially file the paperwork for his candidacy.

A crowded field

Walz becomes the first Democrat from greater Minnesota to jump into the gubernatorial race. Three other DFLers have already announced their bids — St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, St. Paul Rep. Erin Murphy and State Auditor Rebecca Otto. A number of others are also considering a run, including Rochester DFL Rep. Tina Liebling and 8th District Rep. Rick Nolan. 

Several Republicans are also mulling a bid for governor, including House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson. St. Cloud GOP activist Christopher William Chamberlin has announced he is running.

Walz said he doesn't buy into the argument that the needs of residents in rural areas and metro areas are at odds with each other. He said he will run a campaign focused on bringing Minnesotans together.

"This idea of dividing us, whether it be by economics, by race or by geography, that's the antithesis of what I'm talking about. The idea of one Minnesota is what has always made the state strong," he said.

University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said Walz is the frontrunner in the governor's race at this point.

"Tim Walz is the strongest candidate who can both unify the metro area and be quite competitive in outstate," Jacobs said.

Walz's political career began with upset

Walz was born in West Point, Neb. He enlisted in the Army National Guard at age 17 and retired after 24 years, having achieved the rank of command sergeant major. After graduating from Chadron State College in Nebraska with a degree in social studies, Walz began teaching. He spent more than a decade teaching geography at Mankato West High School.

His political career began in 2006 with an election night upset, defeating 1st District Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht. During his time in Washington, D.C., Walz has focused heavily on veterans issues. He recently was elected lead Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Asked whether he will abide by the DFL endorsement process, Walz said, "I fully expect to win the endorsement. I can't say what the other candidates will do. Obviously, that's our goal at this time."

The congressman said he will spend the next few months traveling around the state introducing himself to voters. He said he expects to talk on the campaign trail about the importance of funding public schools and investing in critical transportation infrastructure.

"I'm looking forward to meeting a lot of Minnesotans," he said.

Open 1st District race

Walz’s decision to run for governor throws open the race for the 1st Congressional District seat. The swing district runs along Minnesota’s southern border from Wisconsin to South Dakota. Before Walz’s decision to run for governor, the National Republican Congressional Committee had already announced it planned to target the seat ahead of the 2018 election.

Walz eked out a victory in November despite voters in his district overwhelmingly supporting Republican Donald Trump for president. Walz defeated Republican Jim Hagedorn by less than one percentage point.

Already running for the seat is Hagedorn, of Blue Earth. He is making his fourth bid for the seat after running in 2010, 2014 and 2016. The open race may inspire some other Republicans to jump into the race. Meanwhile, Walz said he is confident that Democrats can hold onto the seat. He expects some strong candidates to step forward.

"I trust the people of the 1st District. I would argue they've chosen wisely six times in a row, and I anticipate they'll continue to do so," he said.

Jacobs said Democrats face a tough fight keeping Republicans from picking up the seat. He said it is possible if DFLers can keep it blue if they find a candidate similar to Walz who fits the district and if President Trump's approval ratings continue to sag heading into the 2018 midterms.

He added, "Midterm elections are often referendums on the party in the White House and Donald Trump's 40 percent approval rating could well drag on any Republican running in the first."

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Politics Reporter

Heather started at the Post Bulletin in 2005 and took on the politics beat in 2009. Prior to that, she reported on small towns in Dodge and Olmsted counties. When not working, she is likely to be found exploring Minnesota's hiking trails with her family.