Minnesota's 8th Senate district is decidedly rural, stretching along Minnesota's eastern border from south of Mora to northwest of Cloquet. Both candidates stress their rural backgrounds, their neighbors, and small towns.
At 38 years old, Tony Lourey has youth on his side: a trim build, full mustache and head shock full of brown hair. Lourey lives on a farm near the Pine County town of Kerrick. He says the state stands at a critical juncture.
"We've got a history of being top in the nation on key quality of life indicators, like health care, like education," Lourey says. "We're losing ground on these issues. And I think that people are ready to start talking about what it takes to be the Minnesota that we've always been and that we can be."
Lourey is unhappy with changes to the state's Minnesota Care health program for low income residents - new eligibility levels that he says have taken away health care for 100,000 people. You might call Lourey an idealist - raised in a socially and politically active family.
"I grew up with a strong commitment and dedication to public service and to public policy," Lourey says. "I went out and studied public policy. I am a public policy consultant. That's what I do across the country, and I've learned a great deal about what government can do when it's working at its best. And that's always been near and dear to my heart."
Lourey's youth stands in contrast with Dan Steven's maturity. Steven's white beard and graying hair give evidence to his upper middle ages. He lost his 17th District Senate seat in 2002 when district lines were redrawn. Instead, he made an unsuccessful run for Congress that year against Colin Peterson. Stevens is campaigning on his Senate career.
"You really at this point in time need somebody down there that has experience; somebody that has the training, already," says Stevens. "(I) don't have to have on-the-job training. I have seniority. In fact, I would be in the top one third of the legislators for seniority, if elected, because I already have 10 years in."
Steven's top issue, he says, is to get school funding for rural districts on par with what metro schools are able to get. Stevens says the divide in Minnesota isn't as much political as it is geographic.
"It's rural Minnesota - Greater Minnesota - versus the liberals in the metro area," Stevens says. "Believe me, there's a lot of Republicans down there that are liberal, in the metropolitan area. There's a lot of Democrats down there that are liberal. Out here people are conservative. And that's why I reflect the district with the values that I have."
Stevens lives in the more conservative southern part of the 8th District - while Lourey's home is closer to the DFL's Northeast Minnesota stronghold.
Political observer Craig Grau of Duluth says the 8th Senate District could lean either direction.
"It has been a swing area," Grau says. "Becky Lourey ran three times before she got elected. It's not a Democratic area, and you're getting down into that part of the 8th District that has been more Republican than, say, north of Hinkley."
But Lourey might get the edge for name recognition, according to former DFL State Sen. Ron Dicklich from the Iron Range. Most of the district has been represented for years by Becky Lourey.
"You know, obviously because of the district makeup, and as long as Becky Lourey has been there, and her son, of course, who carries that name which has a very popular connotation there," Dicklich says.
The Lourey campaign has the edge in fundraising. According to reports filed with the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, Lourey had raised more than $36,000 through August 21st, about twice Steven's coffers. Each was given additional public money in September for the campaign. There have been no polls published on this race.