Iron Range Republicans Dahlberg, Farnsworth will have to battle for name recognition
The Republican fields for the 2014 governor and U.S. Senate races expanded last week. St. Louis County Board Chair Chris Dahlberg announced he’s running for U.S. Senate, and another Northlander, Rob Farnsworth, a special education teacher from Hibbing, joined the governor’s race.
Although Dahlberg is mostly an unknown quantity outside of northeastern Minnesota, he raised eyebrows among political insiders on Monday when media executive and deep-pocketed GOP donor Stanley Hubbard sent an e-mail touting his candidacy. Dahlberg then sent out a news release confirming he’s running.
“I realize that I’m not well known outside of Northeastern Minnesota, so the only way to change that is to meet as many people as I can during the coming year,” said Dahlberg. “I’m humbled that Mr. Hubbard likes what I stand for, and I intend to show all Minnesotans – regardless of political orientation – that I’ll bring a common-sense, balanced and fiscally conservative approach to representing them in Washington, D.C.”
Dahlberg is seeking to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Al Franken in next year’s general election. He’s vying for the GOP nomination against Twin Cities financier Mike McFadden, state Sen. Julianne Ortman and state Rep. Jim Abeler.
Dahlgren, 51, is a Duluth attorney and member of the Army Reserve who has served in Iraq. He grew up in Esko and graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He served on the Duluth City Council from 1992 to 1994. As a civil affairs officer in the Army Reserve, he did a 64-week course learning Mandarin Chinese at the Presidio in Monterey, Calif. He was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2005.
At age 38, he went to law school, first at Hamline University and then the University of Minnesota Law School. At the same time, he got a master’s degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. He moved to Duluth and set up his law practice, but was deployed to Iraq about five months after he started the firm. After his deployment, he returned to his practice, which focuses on estate planning. He’s a single father to his nine-year-old daughter, Maija.
He was first elected to his western Duluth district of the St. Louis County Board in 2008, defeating veteran incumbent Bill Kron by 2.9 percentage points. He won re-election handily in 2012 by 20 percentage points. Dahlberg’s victories in St. Louis County are noteworthy because the area is a DFL bastion.
“I’m a known conservative who got elected in one of the Democratic strongholds of the state of Minnesota,” Dahlberg said.
He said the people who live in his district hold views similar to his philosophy about government.
“My district I like to describe as kind of blue-collar, working class Democrats. They are compassionate for people who are truly needy. But they’re not for foolish spending,” Dahlberg said. “That’s been my message – that I’m for limited government but I’m not for no government.”
Dahlberg said he was drawn to the Senate race more than a year ago over frustration about the level of partisanship and gridlock that was evident in the battle over the fiscal cliff between President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress.
“I share the same feelings that a lot Minnesotans do. I was disenchanted with what’s going on in Washington D.C. You’ve got a $17 trillion debt. They seem like they are fighting like kids in a sandbox,” Dahlberg said.
He said the federal government has become too large and has become sidetracked with issues that are better left to the states. He said the federal government should focus more on core functions like defense.
“I’m not going to go in as a single-issue person,” Dahlberg said. “My overall attention is to what I call ‘focus.’ I think how we got to a $17 trillion debt is a lack of focus. What I see is when everything becomes a priority, nothing is a priority.”
Dahlberg has enlisted the communications services of Greenfield Communications and will be bringing on finance and campaign support in the near future. He plans to formally announce his candidacy around late September, ahead of his retirement from the Reserve on Oct. 1.
Farnsworth this week filed a campaign committee to run for governor and manned his booth at the Minnesota State Fair. He said he started raising money about two weeks before Friday. He is the first Republican from greater Minnesota to enter the governor’s race, although he hails from the staunchly DFL Iron Range.
Already seeking the GOP nod to challenge incumbent DFL Gov. Mark Dayton next year are Orono businessman Scott Honour, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, state Sen. Dave Thompson and state Rep. Kurt Zellers.
Farnsworth and his wife, Jamie, have two young children. He grew up in Chisholm and went to college at the University of St. Thomas, where he received degrees in history and social studies. He teaches special education in the Hibbing schools and was previously a teacher in the state Department of Corrections system. He has a unique resume among Republicans in that he’s been president of his local union.
Farnsworth in 2010 ran for the GOP endorsement in the 8th Congressional District and lost to Chip Cravaack. Cravaack went on to pull off an upset victory over veteran DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar. Farnsworth said he learned lessons from Cravaack.
“Chip reached out to conservative union members,” Farnsworth said. “I’m the only candidate who can do that. There are 350,000 union members in Minnesota, and we don’t do a very good job as a party of reaching out to union members. I’m a rarity. I’m a proud union member Republican.… That’s how Chip won. He set a good example for me to follow.”
Staff writer Paul Demko contributed to this report