Two more candidates enter DFL endorsement race in 8th District

Two familiar names joined the race Thursday to represent the DFL in the upcoming midterm election to replace retiring 8th Congressional District Rep. Rick Nolan.

Joe Radinovich (left) and Michelle Lee

Two familiar names joined the race Thursday to represent the DFL in the upcoming midterm election to replace retiring 8th Congressional District Rep. Rick Nolan.

Retired television news anchor Michelle Lee told the News Tribune she is “99.9 percent” sure she’ll run, while former state representative Joe Radinovich announced his campaign in a news release.

Lee, of Moose Lake, retired in 2016 from KBJR-TV following a television career which started in Duluth in 1983. Lee said she’d previously been planning a run for Congress while Nolan was weighing a bid for Minnesota governor last year. Nolan’s retirement announcement last week rekindled her aspirations.

“We’re sort of building the mother of all coalitions,” Lee said. “We have to bring a lot of people together, various groups. The person who is most successful at doing that will be going to Washington.”  

Sharla Gardner, a former Duluth city councilor, is Lee’s campaign manager, Lee said.  


Radinovich, of Crosby, has worked closely in the past with Nolan, including running Nolan’s successful 2016 campaign to represent the 8th District.

“Northeastern Minnesota is who I am, where I’m from, and what I’ll always fight for,” Radinovich said in a news release. “I’ve spent my life fighting for working families, whether it be organizing for workers’ rights, promoting economic investment in Northeastern Minnesota, or proudly representing Aitkin and Crow Wing counties in St. Paul. I’m no stranger to hardship and I will always stand up for what’s right.”

Radinovich and Lee join Leah Phifer, of Isanti, and North Branch mayor Kirsten Hagen Kennedy in seeking the Democratic-Farmer-Labor endorsement. Republican Pete Stauber of Hermantown and Independence Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman are also running to fill the open seat.

Radinovich described himself as “a fourth-generation Cuyuna Iron Ranger, born into a blue-collar family of electricians, plumbers, miners and nurses, who lives in Crosby-Ironton with his dog, Dakota.”

He served as a state representative from 2013-15; has organized for the American Federation of Government Employees; and has assisted Iron Range mining communities at the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.

Most recently, Radinovich was chief of staff to the newly-elected mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey.

“When Congressman Rick Nolan announced his retirement, I got calls from Minnesotans everywhere - from Brainerd to Duluth, Virginia to Cambridge - urging me to run for Congress,” he said. “Now more than ever, we’ve got to continue this fight, to take on the special interests, and to stand up for working people and families while keeping an eye to the future of our region. That includes expanding opportunity for kids in rural Minnesota, ensuring working people have opportunities in a changing economy, and harnessing our natural resources while protecting our way of life.”

Since retiring from TV news, Lee has lifted the veil of objectivity she wore throughout her career as a journalist by becoming an outspoken DFLer.


She responded to the school shooting in Florida on Wednesday by calling for gun control in a post on her Facebook page.

“As a member of Congress, I vow to seek out those fellow representatives who know the time has come to act,” she wrote. “We owe it to our children, we owe it to the victims of domestic violence, and we owe it to ourselves.”

Lee had yet to formalize her plans on Thursday, telling the News Tribune she was planning an event Sunday to make her official announcement.

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