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Republicans believe they have a chance to defeat incumbent Foley

Jake Grovum//October 8, 2010//

Republicans believe they have a chance to defeat incumbent Foley

Jake Grovum//October 8, 2010//

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In four Senate campaigns, Leo Foley has only once garnered more than 50 percent of the vote. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Prior to the 2004 election cycle, Sen. Leo Foley was the only DFLer representing Senate District 47. But that year Democrats took over both House seats, and they have been able to keep hold of all three posts in the suburban district ever since.

But the DFL’s recent success there aside, Foley’s run at a fifth term in the Legislature has been labeled a possible takeover opportunity for state Republicans optimistically eyeing the majority in the upper chamber. They would need to gain 13 seats in the Senate to swing the balance of power.

Fueling the speculation about a possible pickup in Senate District 47 is this simple fact: The district – which includes the cities of Brooklyn Park, Coon Rapids and Champlin – is thought to be more conservative than its entirely DFL representation might lead one to believe. “This is one of the seats that we think the Democrats are renting,” state GOP deputy chair Michael Brodkorb said. “This is a seat that we should have.”

But knocking off a four-term incumbent state senator is never an easy proposition, and the DFL is certainly not going to give up a long-held seat without a fight. “We have a high level of constituent support,” Foley said.

With less than a month before Election Day, the campaign in Senate District 47 appears to be rather quiet. The three candidates – Foley, Republican nominee Benjamin Kruse and third-party candidate Andrew Kratoska – have not appeared in any candidate forums together as of yet, and none are scheduled right now. That doesn’t mean, though, that state Republicans and Democrats – and their respective supporters – aren’t keeping an eye on what’s happening in the contest.

Kruse has been endorsed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business and the NRA, and has received help on the ground through his connections in local chamber of commerce chapters. Kruse was also previously a legislative aide to Republican Rep. Bob Gunther, of Fairmont.

Foley and the DFL, for their part, have an extensive operation – including daily phone banks and a three-days-a-week door knocking trips – in addition to support from labor and education volunteers.

One major factor in the race seems likely to be simple name identification. Foley’s a known quantity, having served in the Senate for the past 14 years. Kruse is less known, although he has natural inroads with the business community as a small business owner himself.

But to that end, Republicans have cried foul over Foley missing debates. The four-term senator has already skipped two candidate forums, and Kruse has sent a formal letter requesting a series of debates before the election – so far to no avail. To the GOP, that says Foley and the DFL are hoping to ride name identification to re-election. The DFL Senate Caucus did not respond to requests for comment on the missed debates.

Even without face-to-face encounters, Republicans have a very concrete reason to be at least somewhat optimistic about their chances in Senate District 47: election history. Since 1996, Foley has never received more than 50.6 percent of the vote in the district, and until last election cycle he hadn’t broken 50 percent. He was first elected with 49.7 percent, and in 2002 he received just 43.7 percent of the vote, with Independence Party candidate Mark Temke pulling in 13.9 percent and Republican Ray Egan 37.9 percent. In 2006, he won by a slim 436-vote margin.

Another reason for Republicans to be optimistic is the district’s independent voting streak and penchant for split-ticket returns. In 2008, the district went 51.1 percent for Barack Obama, lower than the state as a whole. In the U.S. Senate election, Republican Norm Coleman garnered 44.2 percent of the vote, compared to 38.1 percent for Democrat Al Franken.

In what many see as a Republican wave year, the district’s electoral history indicates it could be pushed more toward the GOP with the help of one overarching factor: the economy. In the district’s three largest cities, the unemployment rate is above the state’s average: 7.4 percent for Coon Rapids, 7.9 percent in Brooklyn Park and 8.3 percent in Champlin.

But Luanne Koskinen, associate chair of the Senate District 47 DFL, said she hasn’t seen the level of dissatisfaction that many have credited with spawning the Republican resurgence and Tea Party-type enthusiasm nationwide. “The people that have been elected out here have a good foundation and propose good legislation and they keep getting re-elected,” she said. “For as conservative an area as this is, we’ve been electing Democrats for many, many years.”

When talking to voters, Foley says he stresses that, despite the state’s budget deficit, he’ll push for more help to those struggling with unemployment or foreclosure. “Those kinds of issues are really core issues for our party, and my personal feeling is we can’t just abandon them,” he said. “It’s hard to tell where all this will play out, but I’m confident that we will do the best we can with the money we have.”

Kruse, though, says he’s sought to campaign on the economy and jobs in the district, stressing his background in business to voters. “The message that we’re giving really seems to resonate,” he said. “We’re talking about real issues.” That message, and pushing policies intended to stimulate economic growth are at the heart of many Republican campaigns this cycle.

It’s a standing question, though, whether this race will gain more interest statewide as November approaches. Aside from typical campaign activities, there haven’t been a large number of mailed advertisements for either candidate, observers said. And despite a semblance of competitiveness, it seems unlikely to balloon into a full-blown battleground district in the next few weeks.

“If people are making top 10 lists for the Senate, sometimes it’s in sometimes it’s not,” Mike Franklin, director of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce PAC, said. “Maybe it’s one where we’ll all wake up on Election Day and think we should’ve paid more attention.”

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