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Rochester rematch

After the dust settled from the 2004 elections, DFLers and Republicans looked with astonishment at Rochester. GOP incumbents in both District 30 House seats lost, contributing to the DFL’s 13-seat gain that year.

Democratic wins in Rochester and elsewhere narrowed the House Republican majority to 68-66.

In that election, Rep. Andy Welti became the youngest member of the House when the 24-year-old DFLer defeated House Transportation Finance Chairman Bill Kuisle. Kuisle, who was accustomed to yawning re-election landslides, lost to Welti by 572 votes.

Welti, of Plainview, is back on the campaign trail this summer to stave off a comeback challenge from Kuisle. Welti said in a telephone interview last week that his District 30B race has a high profile.

“It’s definitely a battleground. … There are people watching from all over the state to see what happens in the district,” Welti said.

District 30B is among the races being watched by political observers this year.

The political Web log Minntelect noted last week that Welti won in a district that re-elected Republican President Bush by double digits over Democratic challenger John Kerry.

“No DFL House incumbent will be targeted heavier than first termer Andy Welti, who stunned everyone by upsetting eight-year legislator Bill Kuisle by 3 percent in 2004. … If Welti can win a second term, DFLers should bottle whatever it is he has and send it to all of their candidates.”

Since the 2004 election, a significant amount of attention has been devoted to Rochester.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave his State of the State address there in 2005 and proclaimed his support for a University of Minnesota campus in Rochester. Earlier this month, the DFL Party held its endorsing convention in downtown Rochester.

Both Kuisle and Welti said they expect to see independent expenditures from outside the district. Kuisle said he has already seen fliers supporting his opponent.

“They are willing to spend money down here until their pockets are cleaned out,” Kuisle said.

Kuisle, who had surgery and chemotherapy for colon cancer before the 2004 election, went back to growing corn and soybeans on his farm southwest of Rochester.

With his health improved, Kuisle decided to run for his former seat. Last year, his campaign spent $5,800 and ended the year with $10,700 in the bank, according to the most recent filing with the state Campaign and Public Disclosure Board.

Welti’s campaign spent $8,860 in 2005 and finished the year with $9,300.

Among the two House seats in District 30, the territory of the Kuisle/ Welti rematch is predominantly rural. District 30A, where former GOP Rep. Carla Nelson is running in a rematch from 2004 against DFL incumbent Tina Liebling, consists almost entirely of the city of Rochester.

Both House districts are moderate, but the indexes from the Minnesota Supreme Court’s political competitiveness report published in the Politics in Minnesota directory show a greater political presence for Republicans in District 30B.

Welti noted, however, that the demographics are changing in an area that Republicans assumed they controlled.

“Many people consider themselves independent. They say they will vote for the candidate that will do the best job,” Welti said.

Welti tells voters that he had a solid first term and stayed above the political fray.

Kuisle’s defeat was preceded by the so-called do-nothing session of 2004 in which legislators adjourned in St. Paul without passing a bonding bill or any other significant legislation. That fall, only House members were on the general election ballot to face the anti-incumbent mood of voters. In light of the election results in the House, it’s not surprising that Kuisle supports staggered terms for senators.

“I’m 100 percent behind that,” Kuisle said.

Kuisle said the freshman class of DFLers who took office in 2005 “deserve an incomplete.”

Kuisle is still concerned about the effect of taxes on business and transportation matters. As the representative of a rural district, he would make sure greater Minnesota sees its fair share of funding if voters choose to dedicate 100 percent of the motor vehicle sales tax to transportation as a constitutional amendment.

On the campaign trail, Kuisle said he is hearing about immigration and its impact on the wages of blue-collar workers.

After Republican losses in 2004, rematches are a theme of this year’s campaign. For example, in District 2B, Doug Lindgren, a Bagley Republican, is running to regain his seat from DFLer Brita Sailer of Park Rapids.

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