Stewart Mills calls himself a "nontraditional" Republican. He wears his hair a little long, skips the suit and tie, and, on this day, goes without the clean shave.
He is not laid back, though, when he talks politics.
Mills, vice president of his family's Mills Fleet Farm stores, said he has seen how government can hurt job growth, citing increasing taxes on small business owners and mandates from the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He called for armed guards in all U.S. schools after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December.
A political newcomer, Mills is running for Congress as a Republican, hoping to beat DFL Rep. Rick Nolan in the 8th Congressional District, which covers a large swath of northeastern Minnesota. Republicans see Mills as a strong candidate to take the seat they stripped from Democrats in 2010 only to lose to Nolan in 2012. He is drawing support from the GOP in Washington.
Ted Lovdahl, chairman of the 8th District Republican Party, predicted Mills will win the GOP nomination. "He's somebody we've been looking for," Lovdahl said.
Mills, 41, entered the family business at 14 and has worked for the company full-time since college. Mills Fleet Farm has 33 locations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota.
He is married with five children and lives in the Brainerd Lakes town of Nisswa. Besides fundraising, he plans to use his own money for his congressional campaign but did not specify an amount.
In the early days of his campaign, he has been talking about jobs.
"The federal government is putting up roadblocks and handicapping the private businesses of the 8th District," he said during an interview in Cambridge.
Pointing to Nolan's push for campaign finance reform, Mills said the congressman spends too much time on issues that do nothing to promote job growth.
"We can debate campaign funding until we're blue in the face," Mills said, "but it's not going to create jobs for people here in the 8th District."
Nolan, who won by almost 10 percentage points in 2012, said he is focused on his work in Congress, including generating jobs, not his re-election.
Although new to campaigning, Mills weighed in on gun control very publicly earlier this year as the issue gripped Washington after the Sandy Hook shootings.
Mills put together a web video calling for armed guards in all U.S. schools, saying, "Gun-free zones are killing our kids."
He argued that semiautomatic assault weapons are safer than traditional duck hunting shotguns, responding to comments that Nolan made about hunters not needing assault weapons.
Mills said gun rights will be part of his campaign but his focus will be on job creation.
His business experience will likely be a strong selling point, but Nolan's support for an assault weapons ban and Mills' gun rights advocacy may be even more important. As Mills put it: "[The] Second Amendment is huge up here. People up here grew up with a gun in their hands."
Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota DFL, said Mills is a "one issue-candidate" championing gun rights and referred to Mills as a "Romney-esque 1 percenter."
Challenging Nolan in the DFL-leaning district will be difficult, but Mills has strengths that goes beyond his support for gun rights, said University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs.
"Stewart Mills could well be a formidable candidate, a guy whose family runs a well-known business in the district," Jacobs said. "This is not a kind of a high-flier like a Mitt Romney. This is a mainstream business guy."