Minnesota's 6th Congressional District is a GOP stronghold. There's no doubt the Republican who makes it onto the Election Day ballot next year will be favored to win. That's why four are already in the race.
But Rhonda Sivarajah, Phil Krinkie, Tom Emmer and John Pederson don't differ much on policy. They're all sticking with the national GOP's message about what ails Washington. So the race to replace retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann is likely to be more about style, name recognition and money.
Right now, Emmer holds most of the cards.
A former state lawmaker who nearly beat Democrat Mark Dayton in the 2010 race for governor, Emmer's off to a fast start in the 6th District. He's hired several paid staff members and opened a campaign office recently in Otsego, where he hosted an open house for supporters.
His familiar name and voice (until recently he hosted a conservative radio talk show heard in the district) helped deliver $225,000 in the first month of campaigning -- more than six times his closest competitor.
"This is not a county commissioner race. It's not a state legislative race. This is a $3 million-plus campaign that involves a constituency of some 600,000 people," Emmer said in an interview.
“This is not a county commissioner race. It's not a state legislative race. This is a $3 million-plus campaign that involves a constituency of some 600,000 people.”Tom Emmer
Krinkie is a former state legislator who led the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. He lost the GOP endorsement to Bachmann when the seat was last open in 2006.
He claims he's the only candidate on the GOP ballot who's never voted for a tax increase and says his long record of supporting small government will help him win over grassroots support.
Emmer, he acknowledged, jumped in big and early into the race. Krinkie, though, cautioned the campaign "isn't a sprint. This is a marathon."
Krinkie, Pederson and Sivarajah are focusing on fundraising, meeting potential delegates and building teams of staff and volunteers. But already, they're hinting at likely lines of attack against Emmer.
"There's lots of people that want to talk and talk and talk about the things they're going to do," said Sivarajah, chair of the Anoka County Board of Commissioners. "I've actually accomplished them and delivered on our real conservative principles."
Sivarajah talks about how she's helped Anoka County cut spending and talked about why she opposed accepting a million dollar state health grant to fight obesity.
"Printing out brochures, handing out free pedometers, those are not the things that cause people to change their lifestyle and behavior," she said.
Pederson of St. Cloud is a state senator who touts his experience as a lawmaker and part owner of a cement company.
Should he get to Congress, Pederson said he wants to make sure that potential new laws, such as the immigration overhaul, don't add paperwork for small businesses.
"What we cannot do is put the responsibility of enforcement on employers," he said.
Pederson and the other candidates have nothing but praise for Bachmann even as her retirement appears to be at least somewhat driven by her relatively poor electoral performance in this highly conservative district.
But Pederson and Sivarajah are clear that they would be very different from Bachmann, who is a fixture on cable TV interview and talk radio shows.
"I'm going to be a very boring congressman if I get a chance to serve," Pederson said.
The first challenge all four candidates face is winning over a few hundred active Republicans at an endorsing convention early next year.
Emmer is the only one who's committed to abide by the endorsement and not run in a primary if he doesn't get it.