A special election Tuesday in the Owatonna area in Southern Minnesota will decide who will fill the seat of longtime Republican state Sen. Dick Day, who announced last month he was leaving the Senate after six terms.
Since the announcement, three candidates have been campaigning around the district; all trying to make the case they would do the best job replacing Day.
This is the first time in nearly two decades voters in District 26 will not see Dick Day's name on the ballot. The district includes parts of Rice, Steele and Waseca counties. It's an area with about 100 residents for every square mile.
The short timetable of this special election campaign gave three candidates just about a month to reach out to voters. Republicans backed Waseca businessman Mike Parry. If elected, Parry says his top priority will be to cut state spending to erase a projected $1.2 billion deficit.
"I'm seeing out of control spending happening at our state level as well as the federal level, and I just believe that as a person who has a couple of businesses and would like to see those businesses grow so we can employ more people, that I can be a very strong voice," Parry said.
Parry, 56, has managed several radio stations in the region and owns a pizza franchise in Waseca. This is his first time running for state office but has served four years on the Waseca city council. In this race, he's been endorsed by former Sen. Day and Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. Gov. Tim Pawlenty also helped him campaign last week.
Parry said he will not support any tax increases and he'll look at every portion of the state budget for areas to cut. He said the state should look carefully at welfare benefits.
"If it continues to grow a program like that, where is the money going to go?" Parry said. "It will create cuts to other departments. It will create cuts to K-12, to public services, to our veterans, and that's the problem I have with it."
Parry drew some unwanted attention when he had to apologize for some of the things he wrote on Twitter. Among other things, he called President Obama a "Power Hungry Arrogant Black Man." Besides a written apology, Parry didn't have much to say about the tweets.
Both Parry and DFL-endorsed Jason Engbrecht see the state budget and job creation as their top concerns. The difference between the two is approach. Engbrecht said the Legislature needs to consider both tax increases and spending cuts to balance the state budget.
"It's a mixed approach," Engbrecht said. "It's finding ways to generate revenue for the state and it is finding ways to save money by being more efficient when we can."
Engbrecht said every option should be considered to erase the state's budget deficit. He said he would also support legislation that would raise taxes on the state's wealthiest residents.
"It's not saying we're going to try to generate all of our revenue on the backs of those who are the most well off," he said. "But it is about asking them to give a little bit more so that they're giving the same proportion as everybody else."
Engbrecht, 36, a physics professor at St. Olaf College, lives in Faribault, where he's served on the school board since 2008. His race has attracted attention from other Democrats, including Sen. Al Franken, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Minn. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
Republicans have attacked Engbrecht for missing school board meetings, but he said the charges are baseless. He said he's only missed some special, unscheduled meetings of the board, but not any regular meetings.
The third candidate is three-time Waseca Mayor Roy Srp.
Srp, 57, is a former Democrat who joined the Independence Party in 1997. If elected, Srp said he would like to cut state spending and avoid tax increases to balance the state's budget. He also criticized the state's other major parties for not solving Minnesota's long-running budget problems.
"The main issue is that the Democrats and the Republicans on a state and national level do not seem to be getting anywhere except into each other's faces and into each other's motives and there's too much of that going on and so we have gridlock," Srp said.
As of Jan. 12, DFLer Engbrecht had raised the most money in the race. His latest campaign finance report says he raised nearly $21,000. Parry, the Republican candidate, had raised nearly $17,000, and IP Party candidate Srp reported raising $4,600.
The winner will have to run again in November.