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Nobody knows what the legislative maps will look like in 2012. The politically charged redistricting process will almost certainly be decided by the courts, most likely in February. But that uncertainty over legislative district boundaries hasn’t stopped numerous challengers on both sides of the aisle from declaring their candidacies.

2012 legislative races start to take shape

DFLer Dan Skogen lost his seat last year in Senate District 10, in west-central Minnesota, to Gretchen Hoffman, a political newcomer. Skogen will be seeking to win back the seat in 2012. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Despite uncertainty over district boundaries, candidates are declaring their intentions for 2012

Nobody knows what the legislative maps will look like in 2012. The politically charged redistricting process will almost certainly be decided by the courts, most likely in February.

But that uncertainty over legislative district boundaries hasn’t stopped numerous challengers on both sides of the aisle from declaring their candidacies. In some districts there are already multiple candidates seeking to oust incumbents.

“People are in various stages of making decisions,” said Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul, who is leading recruitment efforts for the House DFL caucus. “Some individuals are ready to go. They’re going to run, and they’re beginning to work now.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the races developing for 2012:

Senate District 10:
Political neophyte Gretchen Hoffman carried this district by 10 percentage points in 2010, knocking off first-term DFL incumbent Dan Skogen. That’s not surprising given the political profile of the west-central Minnesota district. Republicans have carried the area by double-digit margins in every statewide contest in the last two election cycles. Skogen will be seeking to win the seat back in 2012. He’s well known in the district as a radio personality, serving as sports director for a station in Wadena. Hoffman’s first term included a controversial dust-up over remarks she made on Twitter. She was ordered by the Senate Ethics Committee to apologize to DFL Sen. Barbara Goodwin for mischaracterizing her comments on the Senate floor about individuals suffering from mental illness.

House District 13B: In 2010, Republican Bruce Vogel upset seven-term incumbent Al Juhnke, winning by 5 percentage points. Juhnke still has an active campaign committee, suggesting that he might be interested in trying to win back the seat. But Mary Sawatzky, a teacher at Willmar Middle School and president of the local teachers union, has already filed to run as a DFL challenger. She plans to emphasize delayed payments to schools, which now total more than $2 billion. “There’s nothing temporary about that shift, and it’s frustrating,” Sawatzky said.

House District 15A: Three-term GOP Rep. Steve Gottwalt of St. Cloud has already attracted two potential DFL challengers. First-time candidate Eric Stommes has filed to run in a district that leans heavily Republican. The Sauk Rapids native cites education funding, rising property taxes and the incumbent’s support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as issues that he hopes to highlight during the campaign. “I’m really looking forward to getting out there and knocking on doors,” Stommes said. “I think a lot of people are kind of anti-incumbent at this point.”

Anne Nolan has run for the seat twice previously, losing by 23 percentage points last year. She plans to campaign for office in 2012 but is waiting to see how the maps turn out. Nolan is still mulling whether to mount another challenge to Gottwalt or launch a congressional campaign. She hopes to take advantage of the energy created by the Occupy Wall Street movement in recent months. “I don’t see any congressional candidates out there yet who are explicitly claiming the Occupy message,” Nolan said. “I think someone should.”

Senate District 23: GOP challenger Chris Cousins has announced that he hopes to take on two-term DFL incumbent Kathy Sheran. One potential problem: Cousins doesn’t currently live in the district. He is hoping redistricting will put him in Senate District 23. Cousins is a member of the St. Clair City Council, a sales representative at Lowe’s Home Center and a reserve police officer in St. Peter. “I feel like waiting until February would be entering the game too late,” he told The Free Press of Mankato in October. “I want to get out and talk to as many people as possible.” Sheran was re-elected in 2010 with almost 60 percent of the vote.

Senate District 25: Last year GOP challenger Al DeKruif defeated incumbent Kevin Dahle by less than 3 percentage points. But that result should be marked with an asterisk. The reason: Independence Party candidate John Grimm took 13 percent of the vote. That wrinkle should give Dahle, a veteran teacher in Northfield, optimism as he seeks to win back the seat in 2012. The district tilts slightly in favor of Republicans. Republican Tom Emmer carried it by 8 percentage points in the 2010 gubernatorial contest, while Barack Obama won the district by less than a percentage point in the 2008 presidential race.

House District 33B:
DFLers face a difficult task in this conservative district surrounding Lake Minnetonka. In last year’s gubernatorial contest, Emmer carried it by 22 percentage points. State Rep. Connie Doepke won a second term in 2010 by an even more lopsided margin, garnering 64 percent of the vote. That reality hasn’t dissuaded Todd Mikkelson, a small business owner, from filing to run as a DFLer. He is upset about last summer’s government shutdown, pointing out that his two brothers were laid off owing to the budget impasse. “This particular district has sort of been under-campaigned by both parties,” Mikkelson argued. “It’s sort of assumed that a Republican will win here.”

Senate District 43: DFL Sen. Terri Bonoff’s margin of victory has shrunk in each of her three campaigns. Last year she defeated GOP challenger Norann Dillon by less than 4 percentage points. The district, which includes parts of Plymouth and Minnetonka, leans Republican. Dillon is laying the groundwork for another challenge. A stay-at-home mother of four, she has been active in school issues in the western suburbs. So far she is the only announced GOP challenger. “Competition is good, but I haven’t heard of anybody yet,” Dillon said.

House District 47B: Republican Andrew Reinhardt is optimistic that a third try will allow him to break through in this suburban swing district that includes parts of Brooklyn Park and Champlin. In 2006 he garnered 44 percent of the vote against incumbent DFL Rep. Mellissa Hortman; two years later, he took 45 percent of the vote. Reinhardt is hoping that redistricting won’t thwart his plans for a third bid. “The lines are going to mean everything in that district,” he said. “I just feel there’s unfinished business, and that’s why I’m really driven to run again.” Reinhardt is reaching out to GOP activists in the area to position himself to win the endorsement once the district boundaries have been set. “It’s more of an internal campaign right now, working with the activists,” he said.

House District 56A: Rep. Kathy Lohmer was part of a GOP wave that swept in three Republicans in 2010 in Senate District 56. In her second bid for the post, Lohmer won by a surprisingly comfortable 5 percentage points in this suburban district that includes Lake Elmo. DFL challenger Tom DeGree teaches at a magnet school in St. Paul and owns a restaurant in Minneapolis. School funding will be a primary issue for DeGree; he points out that there are currently 33 students in his fourth grade class, far more than when he was growing up in White Bear Lake.

Senate District 57: GOP challenger Karin Housley never stopped running for this seat after losing narrowly in 2010. She came within 2 percentage points of knocking off incumbent Sen. Katie Sieben. Housley is a real estate agent and radio host. She has been organizing monthly gatherings at restaurants in the district, which includes Afton and Cottage Grove. Guests have included Republican National Committee member Jeff Johnson and U.S. Senate candidate Dan Severson. In terms of name recognition and personal resources, it doesn’t hurt her cause that Housley’s husband is NHL Hall of Famer and St. Paul native Phil Housley, who coaches hockey in Stillwater.

House District 57B: GOP incumbent Denny McNamara has expanded his margin of victory in each of the last three election cycles, winning with two-thirds of the vote in 2010. DFL challenger Joanna Bayers has a master’s degree in political leadership from the University of Minnesota Duluth but is seeking political office for the first time. She is motivated in part by last summer’s government shutdown. “I just don’t think the Legislature has been doing their job,” Bayers said. “People deserve better.”

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