Is Ramstad considering unretiring?


Signs point to yes: U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad has left the door open to retracting his retirement announcement. If he does, it will be a blockbuster development in Minnesota politics with possible consequences in the national race for Congress. (And it would mess up several folks who were preparing to run for the open 3rd District seat.)

Last night, Ramstad’s top Washington aide, Dean Peterson, emailed me this statement, in full:

“Jim has been overwhelmed by the huge number of Minnesotans urging him to reconsider, but he has no plans to run for re-election.”

If that strikes you as confirmation of Ramstad’s Sept. 17 retirement announcement, read on:

Late last week, a well-plugged-in source tipped me off to rumors on Capitol Hill that the National Republican Congressional Committee was urging Ramstad, 61, to reconsider his decision and seek another term and that Ramstad was seriously considering it.

The NRCC part of the story makes perfect sense. At this point, the Republicans have more vulnerable incumbents and are being out-fund-raised by the Democrats at every level. They sit in a leaking ship trying to figure out which holes to try to plug.

With Ramstad’s retirement announcement, the GOP boat sprung another pretty big leak. Three moderate Republicans (Clark McGregor, Bill Frenzel and Ramstad) have held Minnesota’s suburban 3rd District since 1960. (That’s 24 terms of GOP control.) Ramstad has won his recent races by laughably easy margins (65-35 in the Democratic tide election of 2006.)

Although the 3rd has been blue-ing up over recent cycles (it went for Gore in 2000 and Klobuchar in 2006), the GOP felt confident of holding the seat as long as the likable, moderate Ramstad was on the ticket.

Without him, the NRCC faces spending a million dollars or more on a race that is a toss-up at best. The party would rather keep the seat and spend the money elsewhere. Of course they would ask him to, but would Ramstad reconsider?

Starting Friday night and through the three-day weekend (federal employees get Columbus Day off), I left phone calls and emails for Ramstad and his top aides every day. On Sunday and Monday, the messages stated what I had heard about Ramstad reconsidering his decision and asking the congressman or his aides to please stop me from posting this if it was untrue.

I have had friendly, respectful exchanges with Ramstad and these aides in the past. If they were able to say there was nothing to the story, they wouldn’t have let four days pass. I was prepared to post this piece this morning, based on the non-response.

Then came Peterson’s email:

“Jim has been overwhelmed by the huge number of Minnesotans urging him to reconsider, but he has no plans to run for re-election.”

Peterson sent it as the congressional office was closing, and didn’t respond to emails asking to discuss more precisely what it does and doesn’t mean. So let’s take it at face value:

Ramstad is being urged to reconsider. He’s touched by it. He didn’t say that he won’t do it. But he has “no plans” to do it.

On Tuesday night, I ran the language of the email past several experienced decoders of politicalese. They agreed that Ramstad had left the door open, that the “no plans” formulation was a familiar way of not committing yourself, and that if someone wants to make a Shermanesque statement of non-candidacy, they can easily make a clearer one than that.

I’m not saying Ramstad is going to unretire. He says he has “no plans” to do so. I don’t know what the odds are. But he is listening to people urging him to seek a 10th term in the U.S. House, and he is thinking about it.