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13 could be lucky number for Senate GOP

Charley Shaw//July 9, 2010

13 could be lucky number for Senate GOP

Charley Shaw//July 9, 2010

Peter Bartz-Gallagher)
Sen. Amy Koch has drawn good reviews for her work as the Senate GOP’s candidate recruiter. (Staff file photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Caucus hopes to end a four-decade run in minority

Around convention time in the spring, Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, boasted that his caucus would retake the chamber’s majority in November. Considering Senate Republicans’ 38-year stranglehold on minority status, and the 13 seats that his troops will need to gain to make good on the pledge, it amounts to a tall order.

Republican insiders are touting a strong candidate recruiting class and a number of close 2006 contests in the 67-member chamber as reason for optimism, but a number of Republicans have their doubts about whether it will actually come to pass. One party insider told Capitol Report the Senate GOP could pick up four seats on the low end and possibly as many as 10 seats.

But longtime GOP political operative Gregg Peppin of P2B Strategies goes further: He thinks Republicans can take the full monty. “I think [a Republican takeover] is very definitely within the realm of possibility,” he said. “If you go down the map [of competitive races], the Senate [GOP] has top-tier candidates in virtually all those races.”

Senate DFL Caucus Director Mike Kennedy pointed out that the GOP has its own share of incumbents who squeaked by in the last election and will face strong DFL challengers again.

The GOP is sure to target seven seats that the DFL won by 5 percentage points or less the last time around: Sens. Mary Olson (SD 4), Lisa Fobbe (SD 16), Rick Olseen (SD 17), Ann Lynch (SD 30), John Doll (SD 40), Terri Bonoff (SD 43) and Leo Foley (SD 47).

Six other DFL incumbents won in 2006 by 10 points or less: Sens. Kevin Dahle (SD 25), the retiring Steve Murphy (SD 28), Jim Carlson (SD 38), Don Betzold (SD 51), Sandy Rummel (SD 53), and Kathy Saltzman (SD 56).

Conversely, though, five current GOP senators won by 5 percent or less in 2006: Bill Ingebrigtsen (SD 11), Joe Gimse (SD 13), David Hann (SD 42), Michael Jungbauer (SD 48), Ray Vandeveer (SD 52), and Debbie Johnson (SD 49) who is not running for re-election. While those races may have tightened because of the unpopularity of the Bush Administration at the time, it’s far from certain that the GOP will hold on to all of its incumbent seats. While those districts lean Republican in most cases, DFLers are touting candidates like Ham Lake Mayor Paul Meunier.

Observers from both sides of the aisle have noted that the GOP has fielded a formidable candidate in suburban newspaper executive Ted Lillie, who is challenging Saltzman. (Lillie’s brother, Leon, is a DFL rep from North St. Paul.) Republicans are likewise touting another candidate from the business community, Roger Chamberlain, who is a senior corporate tax accountant with Amerprise Financial in Minneapolis. Chamberlain is challenging Rummel.

Republicans have also put up two former legislators in Sean Nienow, who’s set for a rematch with Olseen, and former Rep. Carla Nelson, who is challenging Lynch.

One factor to watch: the Senate Republicans’ reshuffled campaign elite. Sen. Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, has won plaudits for the job she’s done since taking the lead role in candidate recruitment. The caucus has also brought Norm Coleman Senate campaign manager Cullen Sheehan on board as chief of staff.

For a complete rundown of House and Senate districts where DFLers won by 10 points or less in the last cycle, see the chart on page 2 of this issue.

Notes from the trail

In its rundown of 2010 state legislative races, the national magazine Governing predicts the DFL will likely retain control of both houses of the Minnesota Legislature. But the mag’s analysis deems it plausible that the GOP could return to power, particularly in the House:

“The Democrats are still favored to hold both chambers in Minnesota, but amid much angst over the state’s fiscal situation, a shift of control — especially in the House — isn’t out of the question. A determining factor could be how much blame voters place on the Democrats as opposed to outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.” Republicans need a net pickup of 21 seats to assume control in the House….

In a heated GOP primary battle in District 29A, the candidate who is challenging the endorsed candidate could be vulnerable to sniping about a bankruptcy in her past.

Kerry Stoick, who is challenging the party’s chosen candidate, Duane Quam, was open with delegates about her foreclosure during the convention and said she has worked to correct her financial affairs, according to a GOP source.

“I was very honest about it in my endorsement campaign,” Stoick averred to Capitol Report, and she added that she does not expect her opponent to try to make a campaign issue of the bankruptcy.

Whether the foreclosure will turn into political baggage remains to be seen. A story last month in the Rochester Post Bulletin about the 29A primary race didn’t refer to Stoick’s bankruptcy. But it’s nonetheless registering on some people’s radar: A commenter on the site alluded to the bankruptcy issue and added that Stoick “should solve the money management issue.”

There are a couple of fundraisers in the offing to benefit legislative candidates in hotly contested races in Eagan. District 38, on the south side of the Minnesota River, is represented entirely by DFLers. That’s a switch from 2004, when the GOP controlled the entire suburban district.

On Monday Ted Daley, who is running against Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, will raise money at the Eagan home of Sandy and Gary Wiese. Contributions are $50 per person and $80 per couple. Diane Anderson, who is challenging Rep. Sandy Masin, DFL-Eagan, will raise money Tuesday at Granite City Food and Brewery. Minority Leader Kurt Zellers and conservative bloggers and radio hosts Mitch Berg and Ed Morrissey are expected to attend. On Thursday, Senate President Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, and Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, are holding a fundraiser for Masin at the home of Eagan City Council member Meg Tilley….

Not only are people writing lots of checks in Eagan, they’re also planting lots of campaign lawn signs. Apparently too many, at least for the tastes of Mayor Mike Maguire. The Pioneer Press quotes Maguire as saying the signs are “real visual noise out here in the suburbs.” He’s asking candidates to pledge to forego campaign lawn signs until Labor Day….

There are few races in which candidates’ notable names precede them as emphatically as in the District 57 Senate race in the suburbs south of St. Paul. The area is represented by state Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport. She comes from a local political dynasty that includes her father, former Rep. Mike Sieben, and her uncle, former House Speaker Harry Sieben, Jr.

Sieben is being challenged by a name that is also famous, especially to those in the hockey-loving suburbs. Karin Housley will be the Republican on the ballot in November. Her husband, Hall of Fame hockey player Phil Housley, is the second-leading scorer in NHL history and is considered the peer of legendary defensemen like Chris Chellios and Ray Borque. Perhaps fortunately for Sieben, Housley coaches high school hockey outside the district in Stillwater….

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and the members of the DFL-dominated City Council will hold a fundraiser for the House DFL Caucus on Monday. The event at Sweeney’s Saloon in St. Paul will feature eight members of St. Paul’s legislative delegation. Suggested contributions are $100, $250 and $500.

When reporters ask campaigns and caucus officials for the final tally of money collected at fundraisers, they almost always decline to be specific. So it was unusual when GOP candidate Tim Utz said in an e-mail that he raised $1,300 at a fundraiser in Columbia Heights attended by GOP gubernatorial endorsee Tom Emmer. Utz is running in House District 50A against incumbent DFL Rep. Carolyn Laine.

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