Freshman Republican legislator Kurt Bills of Rosemount has announced his campaign for U.S. Senate in Minnesota.
Bills, who has also served on the Rosemount City Council, is a vocal supporter of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas. He's the third serious competitor for the GOP nod.
Former state Rep. Dan Severson and Iraq war veteran Pete Hegseth are also in pursuit of a party endorsement that will be decided in May; all three say they won't run in a summer primary without the endorsement. Frequent GOP candidates Bob Carney, Harold Shudlick and Jack Shepard are also in the race.
The winner will take on incumbent Democrat Amy Klobuchar, a first-term senator with consistently high approval ratings and a huge fundraising advantage.
Bills has libertarian leanings, and gained notice last year for legislation that would allow people to use gold and silver coins as legal tender in Minnesota.
He campaigned with Paul before the state's February precinct caucuses. Paul finished second to Rick Santorum in Minnesota's straw ballot with 27 percent of the vote, and many of his backers are expected to become state convention delegates.
"We'd love to tap into that," Bills said at his campaign announcement this morning in Rosemount. He wouldn't say whether he has sought Paul's assistance in building support or raising money.
Bills said he will focus on the importance of shrinking the national debt and addressing deficit spending.
"I've watched in great detail as the various deficits and debts that our country has, have grown into shockingly large proportions of our overall economy," he said. "It doesn't seem to matter who's in charge. The mismanagement of our entitlements, the loss of the purchasing power of our wages and our national debt figures have only gotten worse, it seems, as time goes on."
He said his votes in favor of last summer's state budget fix, which relied on additional aid delays to schools and borrowing against a tobacco settlement, were different because Minnesota is constitutionally obligated to have a balanced budget.
Bills criticized Klobuchar for supporting government bailout programs. He offered no details on how he would address the national debt. He also didn't say how much money he thought he would need for his Senate campaign.
Klobuchar has largely steered clear of the race to determine her opponent. A statement issued by her campaign manager, Justin Buoen, largely echoed another issued by her campaign when Hegseth entered the race last week.
"Senator Klobuchar has supported bipartisan solutions to reduce debt in a balanced way while fighting for policies that support economic growth. She will continue to put Minnesota first regardless of her opponent," Buoen said.
Bills, 42, is married with four children. He and his wife, Cindy, own a home daycare.
(AP reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report)