Republican delegates in Minnesota’s right-leaning Senate District 35 gather Saturday to endorse a candidate in the race to replace Sen. Branden Petersen. Petersen first announced he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2016, then moved his departure up, leaving the Legislature Oct. 31.
The special general election is Feb. 9, with a primary, if needed, on Jan. 12. Roger Johnson is running as a DFLer. Sunderland and Aplikowski — officers with the SD35 Republicans who have stepped back from those official roles — said they would honor an endorsement.
Capitol Report interviewed each Republican candidate separately Tuesday. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Capitol Report: How is the campaign going?
Sunderland: It’s going well. It’s been a quick start. Doing a lot of door-knocking, phone-calling, sending out emails, things like that. I think it’s being well-received.
Aplikowski: Finding people to go to the caucus, now we’re going door-to-door. Out of about 260 delegates elected in 2014, 24 have moved out of the district.
Huizenga: Everybody’s saying it’s going great. Just a lot of door-knocking. We’re dealing with an old delegation that wasn’t really seated to handle the Senate nomination. Our big advantage is we know everybody in every city.
Abeler: Support is overwhelming. Every day I go out and people know I’m running and they’re excited about it. Fundraising is going very well. We’ve broken $35,000 in six weeks.
CR: How will you get your delegates out on Saturday?
Aplikowski: They know how important this is. They want a senator they can trust. [I’m] staying positive, staying cool. They seem to like my positive campaign.
Sunderland: I think we’ll have a strong attendance. Based on talking to the delegates, I think that we have very active candidates, and interest in the race is very high.
Huizenga: It is [a challenge]. So we’re trying to change that with the one conversation at the door — give people something to rally behind.
Abeler: A lot of people are deer hunting. I’m very relaxed and peaceful about it. Who comes, comes.
CR: How do you expect the convention to go?
Sunderland: My guess is that it probably won’t be short.
Abeler: I really have no idea. I know if they all came, I would win. But they’re not all coming.
Aplikowski: It’s going to be a little bit different. Since I’m a candidate I’m not able to help [the] new leadership team that came in. [Peterson’s early vacancy was] all a surprise to everyone who came [into the race.] I’ve chaired the last two conventions [through some] contentious times. I’m not going to be fighting any rules battles. We’ve been bugging the heck out of the delegates. They just want to get in there, vote and be done.
Huizenga: There’s a lot of gamesmanship and rules and nominations and all the typical things. Most of the people attending are politically savvy enough to understand what the issues are and what’s going on. It’s contentious, there’ll [likely be] some contentiousness in the convention.
CR: What distinguishes you from the other three candidates?
Abeler: I’m the most experienced. I have the most community connections. I have the best chance to get elected.
Sunderland: [Before I entered] there wasn’t a candidate that represented my values completely, who was very committed to both the fiscal and social issues in a way that I might be.
Aplikowski: [In contrast to Abeler’s 2008 vote],I do not support a gas tax. I oppose trains.
Huizenga: My passion is the big one. My second one is just an overall knowledge of the entire district. I have a more broad-based appeal than any of the other candidates with the exception of [Abeler]. He’s got broad-based appeal too but he just doesn’t sit well with most of the people in Andover, Ramsey and Coon Rapids.
CR: How would you be similar or different from Sen. Petersen?
Aplikowski: I differ from Sen. Petersen on marriage. I really liked his data-privacy amendment. Style-wise, I want to work with Republican caucus get stuff done, and be there for my fellow senators and colleagues.
Sunderland: I think Sen. Petersen represented the district very well on fiscal issues. I just have disagreement on some of his votes on social issues.
Huizenga: The biggest thing is I’m not looking to make my career in government. I’m extremely fiscally conservative, but at the same time I also know how our government is meant to work. I’m of the generation that’s not of Jim’s and not of Branden’s but that actually wants a more constitutional republican form of government.
Abeler: I’m twice as old as he is. We agree on conservative principles, but my expertise [is] in health care, human services and education.
CR: How would you characterize the district politically?
Aplikowski: I think it’s very conservative across the spectrum, with a lot of business owners. That’s one of my strengths, as general manager for a family business that’s been running for 50 years.
Sunderland: We have a district that is historically very conservative, both on fiscal and social issues, and I think I match up with it very well.
Huizenga: We have an old generation that has a certain mindset and a new generation that wants to bring a different mindset in. We have people in their mid-40s who really are tired of politics in general, and want a real limited government. They don’t want any more top-down leadership. An older portion of the district [is] holding onto the ideology that they brought with them out of the ’50s and ’60s. In Anoka there’s a more liberal delegation. Andover and Ramsey are more conservative, and Andover is probably more conservative than Ramsey.
Abeler: Certainly right of center. People tend to vote Republican, but there is an independent streak. They care about who the candidate is.
CR: Strategy for a midwinter primary?
Aplikowski: I’ve already got some plans that I don’t think anyone’s actually thought of, that are going to be that type of thing that you really need to do to beat someone in this district with name ID.
Sunderland: My strategy would be just grass-roots politics, knocking on doors.
Huizenga: The strategy is a complete get-out-the-vote. All of those people that are apathetic, they’re hiding out there in the woodwork. They’re waiting to come out. So there’s a big group of people I think that we can bring out.
Abeler: Buy some good gloves. You’re going to be on the streets.
CR: Two officers of SD35 Republicans are running. How does that affect the race or convention?
Abeler: It makes it novel. People have to remember it’s not the party that elects somebody. It’s the people who live in the houses.
Huizenga: It might affect the convention a little bit because there’s some loyalty in the new executive committee that came up, but we don’t look at that as being anything that we can’t overcome.
Aplikowski: I think officers running is very normal. Officers jumping in at the very last minute after they’ve appointed all the committees, that’s a little different.
Sunderland: I can see that there is room for question and concern there [about his late entry]. It’s something that I considered myself. At the end of the day, I just felt that it would be good to have another candidate in the race. I’ve had delegates reach out to me and express concern that there wasn’t someone that they felt comfortable with both as a fiscal and social conservative.
Occupation: Chiropractor, lobbyist, manager of commercial property
Family: Married with six children
Political experience/positions: State representative, 1999–2015; ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2014
Occupation: General manager, Lakeside Homes Inc.
Political experience/positions: Currently SD35 GOP treasurer, CD6 GOP treasurer and finance director and CD6 GOP state executive committee member; and has previously held several other GOP and campaign positions
Family: Married with four grown children, six grandchildren
Political experience/positions: Positions ranging from local GOP delegate to national GOP delegate, and many other local party positions. Ran against Abeler in 2008, challenged Abigail Whelan in 2014 House race.
Occupation: Business owner
Family: Married with three kids
Political experience/positions: SD35 GOP chair