GOP Congressional candidate David Gerson said during a news conference that his congressional campaign is about making changes. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Second District Republican candidate David Gerson is inviting supporters of retiring Republican U.S. Rep.  John Kline to now join his campaign.

Kline announced Thursday that he won’t run for re-election in 2016. Gerson was set to challenge Kline again for the party endorsement after unsuccessful tries in 2012 and 2014.

During a news conference Friday, Gerson said he would be the strongest voice for change in Washington. But he said the absence of Kline won’t change the focus of his campaign.

“I think our focus has always been on leadership in Washington, not so much on John Kline,” Gerson said. “The people are absolutely unhappy that Republican leadership has not been maintaining their principles, and that’s what our campaign has been about.”

For now, Gerson is the only Republican in the race. But that is expected to change soon.

Matthew Kowalski, the 2nd District GOP chair, said he thinks there will be several other candidates coming forward soon.

“I would assume that a lot of folks will come out here in the coming week and announce their intentions, because obviously the sooner they can get started, the better,” Kowalski said.

State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said he’s strongly considering getting into the race. Other legislators are too.

Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, said he’s been encouraged to run and that he’s thinking about it.

“I’m taking everything under consideration, Albright said. “It’s flattering and a compliment to be considered among other folks that are considering this opportunity as well.”

Two Democrats were already in the race before Kline’s announcement. Angie Craig and Mary Lawrence have been raising money and getting organized for months.

Other DFL candidates might be joining them.

Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said he enjoys serving in the Minnesota Legislature. But he said he’s talking to friends and family about where he can be most effective.

“I think it’s important to talk about ideas,” Hansen said. “I think issues matter, and I plan on having that discussion with the announced candidates, and any other candidates as well, as I consider my options.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said in a news release that he’ll announce his plans next week.

Welcome to the Friday before a three day weekend. Here are some stories worth reading.

1. Republican U.S. Rep John Kline shook up the 2016 Minnesota election equation Thursday by announcing he will not seek an eighth term. Look for lots of potential candidates from both parties to express interest in coming days. (MPR News)

2. Donald Trump isn’t the only outsider doing well in Republican presidential polls. Ben Carson is also gaining. (NPR)

3. Water levels are up again on White Bear Lake, but for how long? (MPR News)

4. An east coast reporter comes to rural Minnesota and discovers it’s actually not ugly and, in fact, a  pretty nice place. (Washington Post)

Have a great Labor Day weekend.

Rep. John Kline celebrated winning his 7th term in Congress at the GOP election night party at the Loews Hotel in Minneapolis Nov. 4, 2014. | Courtney Perry for MPR News
  1. Listen Story audio

Updated 3:15 p.m. | Posted 10:37 a.m.

Republican Rep. John Kline said Thursday he will not seek re-election to his Minnesota 2nd District House seat in November 2016.

Kline, who turns 68 years old in few days, was first elected in 2002. A 25-year veteran of the Marine Corps, he served as a helicopter pilot and personal military aide to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

In Congress, he chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

Kline said his health is good. He said Thursday in a conference call with reporters that there are two important reasons to announce his decision now.

“One, is you don’t want to continue raising money for a re-election campaign if you’re not going to run for re-election,” he said. “Two, if you’re not going to run for re-election then it’s important to my party, to the Republicans, to allow people who might be interested in running to think about it, make a decision, decide to get in or not.”

Kline did note that House rules would have required him to give up his education panel chairmanship if he had won another term, and said that played a role in his decision.

He said he’ll spend his remaining time in office working to replace the No Child Left Behind law and to expand access to higher education. He said he also wants to work on holding the Veterans Administration more accountable and reining in federal spending.

“I am going to continue to be the chairman of a big and important committee and a representative of a wonderful district here in Minnesota for 16 more months,” he said. “That’s where my focus is going to be.”

Kline said his decision makes the 2nd district “essentially a swing district.” President Obama narrowly won there in 2012 as did Sen. Al Franken in 2014. Kline said Republicans’ ability retain the congressional seat in an open contest will depend on who they nominate. He made it clear that he’s not trying to pick his successor.

“I expect that I’ll be supporting the Republican nominee. But at this point I have no idea who that will be, who it might be, and I’m not pushing anybody,” he said.

One Republican is already in the race. David Gerson was set to challenge Kline for the GOP nomination. Other Republicans are now expected to start lining up soon.

State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said he’s giving the race strong consideration.

“I think the people want the best person to step forward, the one that does the best job of articulating the values of the district,” he said.

Others were quick to rule it out.

State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said he has no interest.

“I would rather stab a fork in my eye than run for Congress,” Garofolo said. “So, I think that’s a pretty definitive no.”

Two Democrats, Angie Craig and Mary Lawrence, already have campaigns underway. There could be more. State Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said in a news release that he will announce his plans for the future next week.

Susan Moravec, the second district DFL chair, said she hasn’t heard from Atkins or any other potential candidates.

“I would be surprised at this point if they did enter the race, because Angie and Mary have both been campaigning and organizing for quite a few months now and already have had great success fundraising,” she said. “They may have already passed that window where there’s a good opportunity to get engaged in the race.”

Moravec said she thinks the eventual second district DFL nominee has an excellent chance of winning in 2016. She also thinks the contest will start getting a lot of national attention.

Other politicians from both parties weighed in on Kline’s announcement Thursday.

“Rep. Kline has served Minnesota with honor and distinction in the U.S. House of Representatives,” said DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.  “While he and I may disagree, honest political differences comprise the strength of our democracy.  I respect him for his sincerity and integrity, and I thank him for his public service.”

Kline’s fellow Republican, 3rd District Rep. Erik Paulsen said he was disappointed to hear Kline won’t be running for another term.

“I want to thank John for his friendship and guidance, and I know I speak for many of my colleagues in saying he will be sorely missed in Congress,” Paulsen said.

In a statement, President Barack Obama praised Kline’s work on the education committee.

“He’s shown a willingness to work together with anybody – Republican or Democrat – who has the best interests of our students at heart. I look forward to continuing to work with John in the coming months, especially as we continue our efforts to give every child in America the fair shot in life they deserve, and I wish him and Vicky well in whatever their future holds.”