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Challengers lining up for Walz

Paul Demko//October 7, 2011

Challengers lining up for Walz

Paul Demko//October 7, 2011

Sen. Mike Parry, R-Owatonna, is almost certain to run for the U.S. House, several sources indicated. Parry would likely prove a popular choice with the conservative GOP activist base. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

State Sens. Parry, Rosen eyeing possible bids for 1st Congressional District seat

Editor’s note: As this story was posted, state Sen. Mike Parry officially filed to challenge Walz. Read this post for more details.

In 2010 U.S. Rep. Tim Walz survived a Republican wave. Despite representing a quintessential swing district, Walz triumphed over state Rep. Randy Demmer by 5 percentage points. The victory was one of the few bright spots for Democrats across the country on a night when they lost 63 House seats.

The 1st Congressional District has traditionally tilted with the political winds. In 1994, Republican Gil Gutknecht won an open seat that had been in Democratic control as part of a Clinton mid-term GOP landslide that saw them take control of the House. A dozen years later, Walz was part of a Democratic surge that picked up 31 seats and took back control of the House.

But Walz bucked that history last year to secure a third term representing the southern Minnesota district. Now Republicans are eager to take another run at the incumbent in 2012, even before the exact contours of the 1st Congressional District are known.

“It s a very competitive district,” said David Sturrock, secretary-treasurer of the state Republican Party and a political science professor at Southwest Minnesota State University. “That will still be true in 2012. Whatever redistricting does, I don’t think it’s going to change the balance [more than] a point or two either way.”

Early jockeying to take on Walz suggests that a couple of state legislators could be in the mix. Sen. Mike Parry has been the most active in exploring a possible candidacy. The Owatonna Republican did not return three calls from Capitol Report seeking comment, but several sources indicated that he is almost certain to run. Parry would likely prove a popular choice with the staunchly conservative GOP activist base.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski occupies similar ideological turf. He has carried conservative legislation on hot-button issues like immigration enforcement and drug screening for welfare recipients. Last month Drazkowski told the Rochester Post-Bulletin that he was considering a challenge to Walz but suggested he would not make a decision until a redistricting map emerged.

But the Mazeppa Republican now sounds like he’s going to remain a bystander. “I’m not planning anything right now,” Drazkowski told Capitol Report. “I don’t foresee planning anything in the near future, either.” In fact, Drazkowski appears ready to endorse Parry. “I think he’d be a great candidate,” he says. “If Sen. Parry runs, I will very likely be supporting him.” Inside the GOP rumor mill at the Capitol, many Republicans are already speaking of Parry’s entry and Drazkowski’s staying out as a settled matter.

Sen. Julie Rosen’s political plans have been a constant topic of speculation in recent years. In the 2010 election cycle her name was floated as both a possible Walz challenger and potential gubernatorial candidate. Ultimately Rosen was content to win a third term in the Senate representing Fairmont.

But the GOP moderate is once again keeping her options open with regard to the 1st Congressional District contest. “I certainly have been approached,” Rosen said. “I’m thinking about it. I’m not thinking very deeply about it. But I am interested.”

Is she confident Walz can be defeated? “Absolutely,” Rosen said. “I think if the right candidate steps forward, it’s going to be a very good race. We just have to make sure we have the right candidate.”

While Walz is undoubtedly a GOP target for 2012, it’s an open question what kind of resources national Republican groups will throw at the race. Currently the Cook Political Report doesn’t include the 1st Congressional District contest on its list of 56 competitive House races. The first priority for Republicans will be protecting freshmen who scored upsets in 2010 races. In Minnesota that translates into a primary emphasis on helping freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack win re-election in the 8th Congressional District.

“Republicans want to stay on offense, but they also want to solidify the majority that they have,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. “Tim Walz could end up being a Republican target, but I don’t think he’s as high a priority as maybe he would have been last cycle, when Republicans were trying to challenge everywhere.”
Republicans insist Walz is beatable. Steve Perkins, a former GOP chairman in the 1st Congressional District, points out that the incumbent was aided in 2010 by the presence on the ballot of a pair of conservative third-party candidates who pulled a combined 6.6 percent of the vote. “I don’t think we’re going to have that problem this time,” Perkins said. “I think people realize that if the conservative message gets split, all we do is guarantee that liberals get elected.”

Perkins also points out that GOP gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer carried the district by 6 percentage points in 2010 and that Republicans picked up five state Senate seats in the district. “If people think that Congressman Walz is a shoo-in, they should analyze the data,” he said.

The political climate for 2012 is still difficult to forecast given enduring economic volatility. But with the economy expected to continue sputtering through the 2012 election season, most political observers believe Republicans will have the upper hand. Fairly or not President Barack Obama — and legislative Democrats by association — are expected to struggle.
“Walz has to maintain his own identity outside of President Obama,” Gonzales said. “If he gets looped in with the president and those Democrats in Washington then his re-election gets a lot more challenging.”

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