Two relatively unknown candidates — a marathon runner and an Eagle Scout — are on course for a high-stakes contest to see who will replace Rep. Pam Myhra, R-Burnsville, in one of several suburban swing districts that will decide control of the House of Representatives this fall.
Drew Christensen, a 20-year-old senior at the University of Minnesota, won the Republican endorsement last month to replace Myhra, who accepted Republican gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert’s invitation to be his lieutenant governor running mate and won’t be seeking re-election.
In the general election, Christensen will face Democrat Dan Kimmel, a 63-year-old software developer who ran for office in 2002 as a member of the Green Party. Both men have experience door-knocking for other candidates in the district — Christensen for Myhra and Kimmel for Myhra’s 2012 opponent, and in House District 56B for Rep. Will Morgan, DFL-Burnsville.
Myhra won her seat in 2012 with 54 percent of the vote and narrowly defeated Morgan in 2010 in a differently drawn district, but the seat — which straddles Scott and Dakota counties and includes parts of Burnsville and Savage — is far from a sure thing for Republicans.
“Pam was a fabulous legislator for the district, and I feel bad to not have her,” said Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville. “I think it’s a solid Republican district and Drew will do well representing it. He’s a young man, but he’s very mature for his age.”
Myhra did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
Christensen won the GOP endorsement on the third ballot, defeating Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school board member Ron Hill, who did not did not file to run a primary campaign against Christensen.
If elected, Christensen would become the youngest person elected to the Minnesota Legislature since Tad Jude was elected at 20 in 1972.
But Kimmel said he will work carefully and hard to take the seat away from Republicans this fall.
“We’ve got to find people who lean Democrat but maybe haven’t been voting,” he said. “I have experience with voter identifying and turnout in the district. We just have to do a great job on it.”
Kimmel: race is a marathon
Kimmel is a marathon runner, and looks at this election race in similar terms. He’s the “Good Morning” runner many neighbors see on their morning commutes, he said.
“I’ve done more than 63 marathons, and I’ve developed my own software development and consulting business,” he said. “I know how to pay the bills and I know how to pace myself.”
While living in Illinois, he served on the Lockport Township High School Board from 1989 to 1997. In 2002, he ran on the Green Party ticket against then-Rep. Dan McElroy, after getting involved in politics as part of the Ralph Nader movement of 2000.
By 2006, Kimmel was a DFLer, working on Morgan’s campaign. In 2012, he worked on the campaign of Dan Jansen, who lost to Myhra.
Door-knocking in the district will be an advantage for him in the upcoming race, though Kimmel concedes he must also step up his fundraising if he is to be competitive. He did not file a campaign finance report for 2013, having not raised the minimum amount required for the report.
Myhra’s votes against early childhood education and all-day kindergarten funding this past biennium will offer an opening for his campaign, he said.
“The people of this district value education,” Kimmel noted, “and Republicans have been so tightly focused on keeping taxes low, they’ve ignored basic needs like education and transportation.”
Kimmel said he will focus on public transportation and expanding public transit options for the Burnsville-Savage area, if elected. He also emphasized water supply as a “sleeper” topic in the race. Savage buys water from Burnsville because its wells are inadequate for its growing population, and water supply issues will become a more critical issue for the area in the near future, he said.
Christensen: a ‘fresh voice’
Christensen, an Eagle Scout and lifelong Burnsville-Savage resident, said he thinks the people of his district are ready for a “fresh voice and perspective” from a first-time candidate.
“People were very happy with Rep. Myhra’s leadership in the Capitol, and I’m looking to continue her legacy,” Christensen said. “But I care about this community and I’m concerned about the burden of over-taxation and over-regulation that’s making it hard for young people to join the workforce.”
Christensen makes his youth and lack of political experience an advantage more than a liability, said Jackson Harvey, chairman of Senate District 56 Republican Party.
“He works extremely hard, and is able to engage and energize other young people to volunteer,” he said. “He is well-spoken, and is an inspiring spokesperson for Republican values. He has shown that he’s willing to do the hard work that a campaign requires.”
Christensen served as treasurer of the Minnesota College Republicans in 2013-2014, and has volunteered on the city of Savage’s Communications Commission since 2012.
Growing up in Savage instilled Christensen with “Minnesota values” that include lower taxes, government accountability and anti-abortion rights advocacy, he said.
Christensen proved his mettle by winning over delegates to claim the endorsement, Hall said. Hall, who said Hill is a friend, was nevertheless pleased the party avoided a primary contest, so Christensen can get to work raising money and making himself known in the district.
“It doesn’t help to have a primary race,” he said. “Drew is well-spoken for his age, and he will win people over as they get to know him.”