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Too early for Mills to decide if he wants to challenge Nolan for 3rd time

Stewart Mills

As Pete Stauber entered the national political scene Monday, joining the 2018 campaign for Minnesota's 8th Congressional District, Stewart Mills worked patiently from his business office in Baxter.

Mills applauded the news, but said it's far too soon to decide if he would mount a third consecutive challenge of incumbent Rick Nolan, DFL-Crosby.

"It is very early to be talking about a congressional run," Mills said. "Pete is a great guy — an absolutely fabulous guy. I respect his service as a county commissioner and respect his service as a police officer even more. But I still have a decision to make independent of anything Pete has going right now."

Mills has run and lost twice to Nolan, the thin margins getting closer each time — culminating with 2016's half-percentage-point loss.

The 45-year-old multi-millionaire said he works from his office five days a week even in the wake of the family's sale of Mills Fleet Farm in 2016. He is closely monitoring the national political climate and said there are numerous factors that will impact his decision to run for office a third time. The fate of Obamacare — long a target for Mills — was one of a laundry list of things he is tracking.

Mills' races against Nolan have been among the most expensive congressional elections in history — with tens of millions of dollars spent between both elections. If the Republicans are forced to prop up endangered candidates in 2018's midterm elections, Mills said he's likely to avoid running again. But if Republicans aggressively go after new seats, he sounded like a man who would be up for another go-round.

"I'm not a leap before I look guy," Mills said. "I'll wait until later this fall sometime, give or take, just to see if the Republicans will be going on offense or if they'll be playing defense."

Mills said that Stauber's got his work in store to build name recognition and clout outside his hometown surroundings.

"The 8th District is not just St. Louis County and Duluth," Mills said. "There are 17 other counties."

Over the course of two elections, Mills made headway in the western counties where he and Nolan are both from — even winning Nolan's hometown Crow Wing County. The southern portion of the district, Mills said, requires expensive advertising within counties served by Twin Cities media markets.

Mills admitted he might cede the Republican half of the race to Stauber if he proves he can build an "amazing campaign that meaningfully touches all 18 counties."

"It's grueling work that goes beyond Duluth, Hermantown and the Iron Range," Mills said, citing 14-hour days marked by lots of drive time and time away from family.

With his campaign infrastructure able to mobilize at a moment's notice, Mills said he could even wait as late as February to announce his decision in advance of the 8th Congressional District Republican Party of Minnesota's nomination convention.

"I've got a great fundraising base and a great donor list," Mills said. "I know I can raise the money necessary in a short amount of time."