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Abeler bests Aplikowski in special primary

Chris Steller//January 13, 2016

Abeler bests Aplikowski in special primary

Chris Steller//January 13, 2016

A one-time fixture in the Legislature is one step closer to making a return trip to St. Paul to take a new elective office.

Jim Abeler, a former eight-term state representative, handily won a special Republican primary election in Senate District 35 Tuesday, defeating Andy Aplikowski with 61 percent of the vote.

Gov. Dayton set special election dates after Branden Petersen resigned from the Senate at the end of October. The special general election will be held Feb. 9. Abeler will face DFLer Roger Johnson in that contest.

Aplikowski, a Republican activist, won the party’s endorsement for the seat on Nov. 14. He had stepped back from a local party leadership role since declaring his candidacy last summer.

Abeler served the Anoka area in the House from 1999 to 2014, through two redistricting processes and in three House districts. Most recently he represented District 35A during the 2013-14 session, in a seat now held by Rep. Abigail Whelan, R-Anoka.

Abeler left the House when he unsuccessfully sought endorsement from Republicans in the race for U.S. Senate in 2014. He went on to run without endorsement in the primary election but lost.

A chiropractor in Anoka, Abeler hasn’t been a complete stranger to the Capitol scene since leaving office. He has also worked as a lobbyist.

According to unofficial special primary election results from the Secretary of State’s office, Abeler received 2,818 votes from among 4,625 ballots cast. Aplikowski had 1,807 votes for 39 percent.

That vote total is more than four times the total from the last contested midwinter special primary election, held on Jan. 29, 2013, when four DFLers divided 967 votes for the House seat in District 19A — which Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, went on to win.

The weather wasn’t optimal Tuesday for the Senate District 35 primary. The National Weather Service recorded a high temperature of 3 degrees above zero at 4 p.m. in the Twin Cities, with a windchill advisory in effect for central and southern Minnesota until noon.

In an interview Wednesday, Abeler said he thought Tuesday’s turnout, which he pegged at about 10 percent, was good considering the weather, and not much less than have previously turned out for a primary in August, when people don’t mind leaving the house.

“We worked very hard at voter turnout,” he said, citing a campaign that included more than 12,000 phone calls, more than 100,000 pieces of literature, two digital billboards as well as ads in local newspapers as well as on Fox and CNN cable TV channels, “vote today” stickers added to lawn signs, and volunteers waving campaign signs on street corners.

In a traditionally GOP district, will he back off a hair for the special general election ? “Maybe a hair,” he allowed, but he said the trick this time of year is to get people to actually vote on an odd day like Feb. 9.

Abeler said he doesn’t regret leaving the Legislature to run for U.S. Senate, but that he’s eager for a chance to serve again and looking forward to a change of scenery in the state Senate.

Then it’ll be time to run again in November.

“Isn’t that something?” Abeler said. “Nine months off.”


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