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Kline gets a second DFL challenger: Thomas Craft

Briana Bierschbach//July 10, 2013

Kline gets a second DFL challenger: Thomas Craft

Briana Bierschbach//July 10, 2013

GOP U.S. Rep. John Kline

And then there were two. Democratic candidate Thomas Craft filed paperwork and launched a campaign site this week for a run at Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, making him the second candidate who wants to take on incumbent Republican congressman John Kline next fall.

Craft is quite familiar with his challenger for the DFL endorsement, Mike Obermueller; Craft volunteered on Obermueller’s first campaign against Kline in 2012. Obermueller, a former DFL House member from Eagan, lost to Kline by about 8 percent of the vote last fall. Both candidates plan to seek and abide by the endorsement.

“I think people are sick of normal politicians and we need someone who can go out there and relate to people,” Craft said this week. “I’ve got a young family, I’ve got students loans, I’ve got a mortgage and all these things people can relate to.”

Craft, 30, has limited experience in politics. Before working on Obermueller’s campaign, he volunteered for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign in Chicago, where he was living at the time. Craft currently works at St. Louis-based Perficient, Inc. as an IT consultant. Craft describes himself as a “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” Democrat.

“I don’t think budget deficits should be the rule, they should be the exception,” he said. “Fiscally conservative means making sure we are not running big deficits. I think we need to look at every dollar we spend as a message of what we value in this country.”

Craft also touts his rural upbringing on a farm in Staples, Minnesota, and his parent’s ties to blue-collar, union jobs. “My dad was a union machinist on the railroad. The fact that he had a union job meant he could travel in the summers and work some overtime and make sure we had some nice things in our life, and that is something that is slipping away,” Craft said. “Unless we stand up and protect union rights, we are going to lose more of those jobs.”

There’s been an influx of DFL interest in Kline’s seat since the new redistricting maps were released in February 2012. Under the new maps, Kline’s once reliably conservative district shed GOP strongholds in Rice, LeSeur and Carver Counties, while picking up DFL territory in parts of West St. Paul and Mendota Heights. The changes enticed three first-time congressional candidates to seek the DFL endorsement for the seat, with Obermueller prevailing after four ballots.

In last fall’s election, Obama won slightly more votes than GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the newly configured 2nd District, but Kline proved harder to tackle. He comfortably beat Obermueller by more than 8 points in an otherwise strong year for Democratic candidates.

Kline was first elected to the U.S. House in 2003 and he currently chairs the powerful House Education and Workforce Committee. The congressman from Lakeville has already raised more than $1 million to defend his seat.

But Democrats are still hopeful. The House Majority PAC has already launched an Internet ad campaign against Kline for his stand on student loan interest rates, and Craft thinks a fresh face could do well in the district. “I think that the John Kline is emblematic of what’s wrong with Congress. He’s more interested in making political wins than in helping the country move forward and be more prosperous,” Craft said. “There’s so much ego involved in our politics that we need to find people that really just want to go and serve the country.”

Craft lives with his wife Karolina and their son Henry in Eagan. He will make his campaign official at a kickoff event at his home on Saturday.

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