Short of money, candidate leverages hometown support for for campaign
John Pederson is counting on geography to give him an edge in the competitive Republican field to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.
The two-term state senator can’t raise as much money as Tom Emmer, a former gubernatorial candidate and the favorite to win in the 6th District contest. Pederson also doesn’t have the personal wealth to self-fund his campaign like the other two GOP candidates in the race, former legislator Phil Krinkie and Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah. But Pederson hails from St. Cloud, and he says that gives him an edge.
“St. Cloud is the largest city in this district, and we believe that we have strong support in this community. I’ve won four elections in this district, two city council races and two state senate races, which most people would agree is a difficult district for Republicans,” Pederson said. “I think we are going to have success in this congressional race too.”
That’s proof that his work on the city council and in the state senate has made him appealing to Republicans, moderates and independents alike, Pederson says.
Capitol Report sat down with Pederson this week to talk about his stump speech, fundraising and how he’s stands apart from the other Republicans vying to take Bachmann’s place.
Capitol Report: When did you know you wanted to run for the 6th District seat?
John Pederson: It was probably several days after Michele Bachmann announced her retirement. She released a YouTube video at about 2:30 in the morning, and the first text I got from someone was about 4:30 in the morning. And throughout that day and the next couple of days I just got numerous phone calls and notes and encouragement from supporters to take a hard look at running for this congressional seat, and as you can imagine I had further discussions with my family and my co-workers here. I am the only candidate who has a real private sector job at this point. And as I go through this campaign, quite frankly, I’m not in a position to leave work and stop what I’m doing now. I have to support my family. I have a number of department managers here, and it was critical for me to have their support as well.
CR: What kind of campaigning have you been up to since your announcement?
Pederson: We work at it every day, primarily we are working on raising money, contacting activists and really getting our message out in the community that I serve. St. Cloud is the largest city in this district, and we believe that we have strong support in this community. I’ve won four elections in this district — two city council races and two state senate races — which most people would agree is a difficult district for Republicans, and I think we are going to have success in this congressional race too. I think the core support in that St. Cloud area is critical going forward.
CR: What has been your main message to voters so far?
Pederson: My approach is different, and I think has led to our past successes. I have an open-door policy and I approach serving the constituents in the same way I sell construction material, and that is really all about customer service. I try to make contacts and develop relationships, and the bottom line is responding to people when they have a concerns. And you can imagine in recent years, especially with the economic downturn, we have a lot of constituents that are concerned.
My experience is very different than any other candidate in this race. I currently serve as the lead GOP member of the transportation committee. Transportation is a critical issue for the 6th District. I’m a part owner of a manufacturing company; our payroll as of last Friday was 93 people. I have a strong manufacturing background, and I grew up on a farm in Wright County. So my background is in transportation, manufacturing and agriculture, and each of those issues is really critical to this district. I don’t have an opponent in this race that has that kind of experience.
CR: Beyond Republicans, how would you appeal to independent or moderate Democrats?
Pederson: People want a chance to be heard from their elected officials. They understand that you’re not going to agree with them all the time, and they understand that you are not going to vote with the way they would like you to vote all of the time. But they do expect you to sit down and give them the time that they deserve, give them a chance to tell their story, give them a chance to make their case, give them a chance to change your mind, and give them a reason for why you either agree or disagree with them.
I’m a candidate that believes fiscal conservative values are for everybody, it doesn’t matter if you are an independent or a Democrat. Most people in our district are concerned about the federal deficit and our federal spending, and they understand that it can’t grow faster than our economy like it has done here in Minnesota and like it’s doing at a national level.
CR: Michele Bachmann has become one of the most well-known members of Congress, with many fans and critics. How would you judge her performance?
Pederson: I would say it’s been very strong. I voted for congresswoman Bachmann every time, and I would not be running if she had chosen to get in this race. I think she would win as long as she wanted to serve. I am grateful for her service and thankful that she has been my congresswoman. I wish her well and all the best in what she chooses to do next.
CR: The district is supposed to be safe for conservatives, but the 2012 election was close. Why do you think that is?
Pederson: I think it mainly had to do with her opponent, [Democrat Jim Graves]. People are very concerned about jobs and economic growth, and she had an opponent who was a successful business person who understood what it was to create jobs. Her Democratic opponent was also pro-life, and that’s very appealing to a lot of independents here in central Minnesota. He was also pro-Second Amendment, so really what it came down to was that the Democrats had a candidate that was more like congresswoman Bachmann than any other candidate they had before.
CR: How would you have handled the recent shutdown of the federal government? Should House Republicans have continued to fight the implementation of the new health care law?
Pederson: I don’t think that I would have done anything different at this point. One of my responsibilities here where I work is to negotiate the health and benefits package, and now I’m going to my staff with a 22 percent increase in their health premium package, and it’s a very difficult situation for working families in central Minnesota. That is not changing my position. I do believe that the states can handle health care issues better than the federal government, and the situation right now is very challenging, so I would have likely done all I could have to prevent it from being implemented.
CR: What issues would you want to work on in Congress?
Pederson: There are priorities for the 6th District, and then there are priorities for the country. My priorities for the district relate specifically to transportation, jobs and economic development. We have the single most congested freight corridor in I-94 coming northwest out of the Twin Cities, and the second most congested freight corridor is Highway 10 coming northwest out of the Twin Cities. Two of the worst transportation corridors cut the 6th district right in half. Transportation has to be a priority.
And on a national level: The spending and the national deficit. I rarely talk to anybody that thinks this national deficit is anything we should be passing on to the next generation.
CR: How has the fundraising effort been going so far?
Pederson: We are encouraged and we are working at that every day. I’m not a wealthy person. I’m a hard-working, middle class family man. I think that’s what folks are looking for in a congressional candidate, and it’s something that differentiates myself from the other candidates.
I am not independently wealth and I will not be able to write myself checks in excess of $100,000. We are also not spending money at the level that other candidates are. It will be interesting to see if those spending levels will continue. My sense is it won’t, because many people believe that this district will stay under Republicans. Without congresswoman Bachmann as the opponent it’s not even on the radar for Democrats to try and take back. There is going to be a lot less money spent on this race than there has been historically.