Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Erik Paulsen can rest easy. Owing either to the nature of their districts or to their relatively unknown opponents, those three congressional incumbents are virtually assured of a return trip to Washington next year.
Eighth Congressional District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and Republican opponent Stewart Mills, by contrast, seem destined for a bruising campaign that most expect to go down to the wire. Minnesota’s other four congressional districts are bound for primary or general election battles of varying degrees of competitiveness.
Campaign finance reports submitted earlier this week find a pair of incumbents — CD 7 DFL U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and CD 2 GOP U.S. Rep. John Kline — holding large cash leads over their respective challengers.
In two other districts, endorsed Republicans Tom Emmer and Aaron Miller have vastly outraised their primary challengers. Of the two, only Emmer’s campaign in the conservative 6th Congressional District now held by retiring GOP U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann seems likely to result in a trip to Congress. But first Emmer must beat Anoka County Board member Rhonda Sivarjah in the Aug. 12 primary.
David Wasserman, a political analyst with the Cook Political Report, said 2014 is still looking like a strong year for Republicans in House races, and said the current political atmosphere is comparable to the last midterm election. If proven true, that’s bad news for Democrats in Minnesota and elsewhere.
“This is sort of looking like ‘2010 light,’” Wasserman said. “It’s not as Republican a year as 2010 was, but it’s kind of halfway there.”
1st Congressional District
This race looked ready to advance to the general election stage some months ago, following area Republicans’ endorsement of Aaron Miller, a health care account manager and U.S. Army veteran. But Miller’s primary opponent, Jim Hagedorn, who had previously said he would abide by the endorsement, reversed course in mid-May, saying he doubted Miller’s work as a campaigner.
The past quarter’s fundraising reports do little to support that argument from Hagedorn, who also ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in 2010. Miller collected $103,000 from April through June, and entered this month with $107,000 in cash on hand. Hagedorn, meanwhile, raised about $30,000 during the quarter, and had only $11,000 in cash at the end of the reporting period.
Miller said he had only begun to focus on fundraising during the spring after an initial period of introducing himself to Republican activists. This month, he’s starting to spend some of his money, launching a television ad that he said would bring his message to 80,000-some households in the southeast corner of the state.
“[Fundraising] needs to continue,” Miller said. “It takes a lot of money to defeat an incumbent.”
This particular incumbent also has a significant financial advantage: Current CD 1 U.S. Rep. Tim Walz reported more than $231,000 in contributions, and has just under $542,000 in cash on hand.
2nd Congressional District
If this year’s election turns out anything like 2010, that would be very bad news for Democrat Mike Obermueller. The former DFL legislator is preparing for a rematch with Kline, a six-term Republican who bested Obermueller 54 percent to 46 percent in 2012, a historically strong year for Democrats.
Kline also has a proven track record of outperforming fellow Republicans who appear on the same ticket. His decisive 2012 victory came despite President Barack Obama’s narrow win over Mitt Romney in the 2nd District, and in 2010, Kline’s 63 percent was more than a dozen points better than then-GOP gubernatorial nominee Emmer among district voters.
Kline raised $295,000 last quarter, and now has $1.69 million in his campaign account. That’s more than five times the $288,887 in cash held by Obermueller, who collected $151,000 last quarter.
Wasserman said there’s little evidence that Obermueller will do better than last time.
“Democrats will say [Obermueller] got an earlier start this time,” Wasserman said. “But he’s clearly not going to close the fundraising gap, and this is nowhere near as good a year as 2012 was for Democrats.”
6th Congressional District
Emmer’s fundraising prowess was good enough to turn this three-way primary into a one-on-one duel, according to former legislator Phil Krinkie, who backed out after initially planning to move on to the primary.
“That was part of my decision not to run — Emmer has done very well, in terms of fundraising, from the outset,” said Krinkie, who described Emmer as the “presumptive favorite” in the primary.
Emmer continues to hold a huge fundraising edge, according to the latest financial reports. His $279,000 from the last quarter is an impressive haul for a first-time congressional candidate, and Sivarajah’s total of just $15,000 pales in comparison. Sivarjah’s campaign account also benefited from a self-loan of $170,000, which she made in late March.
Even so, Sivarajah has spent thriftily, and reported $211,000 in cash-on-hand. That figure is not too far off Emmer’s holdings of about $260,000. Emmer also reported about $110,000 in outstanding debt, a fact not lost on Sivarajah.
“I am actually a fiscal conservative,” Sivarajah said. “I have always been careful with resources, whether that’s personal, or taxpayer, or if people are willing to contribute their hard-earned money to my campaign.”
Emmer, for his part, seemed unconcerned with the state of Sivarajah’s finances, and said he was focused on following a long-term strategy his campaign designed last year. Emmer defended his campaign’s relatively high burn rate — “we didn’t raise the money just to hold onto it; this isn’t a bank account,” he said — and said he was well-positioned to defend Bachmann’s seat in November.
”This has been a very close district in three of the past four election cycles,” Emmer said. “I don’t think anybody can take anything for granted.”
Sartell Mayor Joe Perske, the endorsed DFL candidate in the district, reported $55,000 worth of donations, and had about $46,000 in the bank.
7th Congressional District
A couple of lackluster fundraising quarters for Peterson left some wondering whether the longtime Congressman intended to seek a 13th term. Peterson’s announcement in March of this year quieted those whispers, and his new fundraising numbers should answer most questions about Peterson’s effort.
The incumbent raised $267,000 during the second quarter and spent comparatively little during that time, leaving him some $717,000 to spend on his re-election campaign. Many of the donations to Peterson, who serves as the Democratic lead on the House Agriculture Committee, came from individual farmers or agricultural interest groups.
Indeed, Wasserman said Peterson should hope to get a boost as part of a “victory lap” after the passage of this year’s Farm Bill, in which Peterson was a key member of the conference committee. But, at the same time, Peterson is facing stiffer competition than in elections past, as evidenced by the strong fundraising showing from his GOP opponent, state Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake.
Westrom received about $226,000 from donors last quarter, including cash from prominent conservative groups and political funds: Political action committees associated with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and recently ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, count among Westrom’s contributors.
“There’s growing national interest in this race,” said Westrom, who also pointed out that he received money from 37 of the district’s 38 counties.
Westrom said he had worked hard to attract attention from national conservative race-trackers, but added that he had always figured to run from a financial disadvantage against the incumbent.
“I’ve told people all along, I’m David, [Peterson] is Goliath,” Westrom said. “But we like where we’re at, and we like where we’re going.”