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Money magnets: Some candidates have significant financial advantage over rivals

Paul Demko//August 3, 2012

Money magnets: Some candidates have significant financial advantage over rivals

Paul Demko//August 3, 2012

DFL Senate District 49 candidate Melisa Franzen, left, has reported raising more than $50,000, the highest total for any non-incumbent in the state. GOP state Rep. Keith Downey, right, who is looking to replace retiring GOP Sen. Geoff Michel, took in just over $65,000, roughly $28,000 of which represented a transfer from his Minnesota House campaign committee. (Franzen photo: Lisa Miller; Downey photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The Senate District 49 race has attracted more than $100,000 in political contributions — the largest haul of any contest in the state.

GOP state Rep. Keith Downey, who is looking to replace retiring GOP Sen. Geoff Michel, took in just over $65,000, although roughly $28,000 of that was transferred from his House committee. DFL challenger Melisa Franzen reported raising more than $50,000, the highest total for any non-incumbent in the state.

“It gives you credibility,” Franzen said. “It makes a big statement when you are an underdog and you’re running against somebody who has experience at the Legislature.”

Downey anticipates that organized labor and other independent expenditure groups will easily outspend his campaign. He points out that in 2008, when he first ran for the House in a three-way contest, more than $200,000 was spent by his opponents and allied interest groups. “There’s no shortage of things we can spend money on,” Downey said. “These state races have gotten out of control in terms of the money that is spent on them by outside parties.”

It’s not particularly surprising that Senate District 49 has attracted a lot of political cash. It’s a wealthy suburban swing district that includes Edina and parts of Bloomington and Minnetonka.

More striking is the influx of cash in Senate District 4, which covers Moorhead and a large swath of western Minnesota. The seat is open owing to the retirement of DFL Sen. Keith Langseth, who has served in the Legislature since 1974. The contest pits DFL state Rep. Kent Eken against GOP challenger Phil Hansen, who played defensive lineman with the Buffalo Bills for more than a decade.

Hansen is leading the money hunt, taking in nearly $45,000 (including a $500 contribution from former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly), according to pre-primary campaign finance filings. Hansen expressed surprise that he was among the state’s most prolific fundraisers. “I have no clue how I compare to everybody else,” the first-time candidate said. “It’s not easy asking for money, but when you believe in what you’re doing, it makes it a little easier.”

Eken’s haul was just over $30,000. At this point in the election cycle two years ago, by comparison, Langseth and his GOP challenger had collected just over $20,000 combined — less than a third as much money has been raised in this election cycle. “It is a race that’s getting a lot of attention,” Eken said. “It could very well determine who controls the state Senate and what direction we’re going to be moving in as a state.”

Six incumbents, three seats

Another district that’s attracting a lot of attention is Senate District 5 in central Minnesota, where six incumbents are vying for three seats. But it hasn’t been as much of a magnet for cash. In the Senate contest, Republican John Carlson and Democrat Tom Saxhaug each took in slightly more than $15,000. The House District 5B contest was also a virtual draw financially, with DFLer Tom Anzelc raising roughly $12,000 and GOPer Carolyn McElfatrick taking in more than $10,000. But on the other side of the district, GOP Rep. Larry Howes tripled up on his DFL rival. Howes took in nearly $17,000, compared to less than $6,000 for DFL Rep. John Persell.

Howes doesn’t have an explanation for his fundraising advantage. “I have no idea,” he said. “I’m just very grateful that I got what I got.”  Support from labor organized labor certainly helped. Howes has been endorsed by the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, among other unions, and they contributed nearly $3,000 to his campaign. Howes said he recently purchased 100 additional lawn signs and expects to purchase radio advertising time in the Bemidji and Park Rapids markets in the fall. He has at least two more fundraisers scheduled and expects to raise a total of roughly $30,000.

Under state campaign finance rules, spending for incumbent House members who don’t face a primary opponent is capped at $34,300. Incumbent senators can spend roughly twice that amount. The caps are slightly higher for first-time candidates and those facing primary contests.

Challengers surpass incumbents

In several races, challengers surprisingly took in more money than the incumbents. In Senate District 9, former state Rep. Al Doty, who lost his bid for re-election in 2010, raised $24,000. That was nearly $6,000 more than GOP incumbent Sen. Paul Gazelka. Another DFLer looking to return to the Legislature, former Sen. Rick Olseen, also showed impressing fundraising muscle. Olseen took in $24,000, more than twice as much as GOP Rep. Bob Barrett, who he’s looking to unseat. Similarly, DFL Sen. Lyle Koenen, who won a special election earlier this year, was outraised by primary challenger Larry Rice. The incumbent took in less than $6,000, while Rice raised roughly twice that amount.

Some races are financial mismatches. In House District 1A, freshman Republican Rep. Dan Fabian took in nearly $17,000 and had nearly $25,000 in the bank. His DFL challenger, Bruce Patterson, raised less than 20 percent as much and had less than $2,000 in the bank. Patterson’s campaign also reported unpaid bills of more than $1,000.

The Downey-Franzen contest is not the only race in Senate District 49 that’s attracting significant amounts of money. In House District 49A, former GOP Rep. Ron Erhardt is now running as a DFLer for the seat being vacated by Downey. His opponent is Republican Bill Glahn, who served as the top energy official in former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration. Glahn nearly doubled up Erhardt in fundraising — $34,000 to $18,000. But in terms of cash on hand, both candidates had in the neighborhood of $3,000 at the pre-primary filing deadline.

House District 49B is also an open seat. Former DFL Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who is looking to regain the seat he lost in 2010, has a sizeable cash advantage. He raised more than $23,000 and had $27,000 in the bank, while his GOP rival, Theresa Jacobson, raised less than $15,000 and reported roughly $12,000 cash on hand.

Rep. Steve Simon, who serves as treasurer for the DFL House caucus, says that their candidates are well-prepared financially for the looming campaign season. “Overall, an impressive haul by DFL candidates,” Simon said, “particularly those facing incumbents.”

Some cash totals from other swing districts:

• Senate District 53: DFL challenger Susan Kent has narrowly outraised GOP incumbent Sen. Ted Lillie in this east metro suburban swing district. Kent raised $17,000 and had just over $10,000 in the bank. Lillie took in nearly $16,000 and reported roughly $14,000 cash on hand. In House District 53A, where there is no incumbent, DFL challenger JoAnn Ward enjoys a substantial cash advantage. She has raised nearly $17,000, or almost $7,000 more than GOP challenger Pam Cunningham. In House District 53B, incumbent GOP Rep. Andrea Kieffer has nearly $16,000 in the bank. That’s more than three times as much as DFL challenger Ann Marie Metzger.

• Senate District 51: This Eagan-Burnsville district will once again be a key battleground for control of the House and Senate. GOP incumbent Sen. Ted Daley enjoys a significant cash advantage over DFL rival Jim Carlson in a rematch of their 2010 contest. Daley reported raising nearly $26,000 and had slightly less than that left in the bank. Carlson raised roughly $16,000 and reported nearly $14,000 cash on hand. In House District 51A, another rematch from 2010, incumbent GOP Rep. Diane Anderson doubled up DFL challenger Sandra Masin in both contributions and cash on hand. Anderson reported raising more than $15,000, with nearly $10,000 still in the bank. On the 51B side, DFL challenger Laurie Halverson matched incumbent GOP Rep. Doug Wardlow’s fundraising haul. Both candidates took in nearly $15,000 and reported roughly $10,000 in the bank.

• Senate District 42: All three contests in this DFL-leaning Ramsey County district are for open seats. In the Senate race, DFL Rep. Bev Scalze more than doubled up GOP challenger April King in fundraising. Scalze took in nearly $24,000 and had the same amount cash on hand. In House District 42A, DFL challenger Barbara Yarusso raised nearly three times as much as GOP rival Russell Bertsch. Yarusso took in nearly $15,000 and had more than $8,000 cash on hand. On the 42B side, DFL nominee Jason Isaacson raised more than four times as much as GOP challenger Ken Rubenzer. Isaacson took in nearly $11,000, but had less than $4,000 remaining in the bank.

• House District 14B: Freshman GOP Rep. King Banaian raised twice as much money as DFL challenger Zachary Dorholt in this St. Cloud swing district. Banaian took in nearly $22,000 and reported more than $15,000 cash on hand. Dorholt raised just over $10,000 and had nearly that much in the bank.

Staff writer Mike Mullen contributed to this report.

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