5th District DFL candidates challenge endorsement

Ember Reichgott Junge
Ember Reichgott Junge, left, at a recent campaign event for her congressional campaign.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

The four DFLers running in the Sept. 12 primary agree on many of the issues. They all want to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. They're all pushing for some sort of universal health care system.

They all want more money spent on alternative energy, and they all want more funding to help cities hire police officers. They all say they're also in favor of repealing President Bush's tax cuts on upper income Americans.

Since the candidates are taking similar stands on the issues, they're working to mobilize their key supporters to make sure they get to the polls on primary day, Sept. 12. Minnesota's 5th is a DFL stronghold, which includes Minneapolis and several suburbs.


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As the only woman running on the DFL side, former state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge says she's targeting suburban voters and women. On a recent day, Reichgott Junge was busy mingling at the Minneapolis home of a member of the Minnesota Women's Campaign Fund. She shook hands and shared stories with about 25 people.

Reichgott Junge knows first hand how important voter turnout is for a primary. She tells the story of meeting some friends just two days after she lost her primary bid for attorney general in 1998.

"They come up to me on the street and say 'Ember, we're just so glad you're running for attorney general. You have two votes in our household in November,'" Reichgott Junge said. "I had just lost the primary two days earlier, so they didn't realize that they had to vote in the primary to get me to the November election. That's what I'm concerned is going to happen in this particular race."

Keith Ellison
Keith Ellison, the DFL-endorsed candidate for the 5th Congressional District race, has been targeted by his other main rivals in the upcoming DFL primary.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

In 1998, Reichgott Junge called the DFL endorsement "the heart and soul of the DFL Party." But this year, she had a change of heart when she decided to challenge Keith Ellison.

When she first announced her campaign, Reichgott Junge said Congressman Martin Sabo's surprise retirement didn't leave party activists enough time to scrutinize the candidates.

Since then, Ellison has been criticized for a variety of missteps, like having his driver's license suspended for not paying parking tickets, and for failing to properly file his campaign finance reports.

Reichgott Junge says that proves she was correct in taking the race to the primary.

"Many people were telling me that the DFL endorsement in this race was not very meaningful," Reichgott Junge said. "There was too little time for them to evaluate the candidates. What they're saying is that the campaign process has allowed the process to work. In other words, where people could get to know us better, and we can get to know the people of the 5th District better."

Many people were telling me that the DFL endorsement in this race was not very meaningful. There was too little time for them to evaluate the candidates.

Reichgott Junge has raised more money than the other candidates in the race. She also received the endorsement of EMILY's List, a group that raises campaign money for female Democrats who support legalized abortion.

Several progressive DFLers have criticized Reichgott Junge for being too moderate for the district. Joel Bergstrom of Minneapolis wants a candidate who supports government-run, single payer health care. He also criticized Reichgott Junge for not voicing her opposition to the war in Iraq earlier.

Bergstrom, who is backing Ellison, points out that Reichgott Junge was also the Minnesota chair of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman's campaign for president in 2004. That's a definite sore spot among Democrats who feel Lieberman is too close to President Bush.

"She might be a moderate -- and I don't necessarily fault that -- but that's not who I want to be my congresswoman," Bergstrom said. "We don't need to elect Joe Lieberman's female alter-ego here. This is a safe district. We should be looking at somebody who truly represents the progressive part of the Democratic Party, and I just don't think she has those credentials."

Others criticize Reichgott Junge for supporting a bill that would create a one-chamber Legislature in Minnesota, and her record as the chief sponsor of Minnesota's charter school law.

Reichgott Junge says she supported Lieberman because she thought he was the best candidate to defeat President Bush. She also says her 18-year voting record in the Minnesota Senate is progressive, because she supported legalized abortion and gay rights.


While Reichgott Junge is championing her experience in the Legislature, former DFL Party chair Mike Erlandson is touting his Washington experience.

Erlandson served as Congressman Martin Sabo's chief of staff, and has Sabo's backing. Sabo has been door-knocking and appearing at campaign events with Erlandson. He even recorded a radio ad for him.

Sabo and Erlandson
Retiring Rep. Martin Sabo, left, has endorsed Mike Erlandson to replace him in office. Erlandson is Sabo's chief of staff, but didn't win the DFL Party endorsement.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Sabo's endorsement of Erlandson has been criticized as "king-making" by Keith Ellison and other party loyalists. Erlandson was DFL Party Chair from 1999 until 2004. He attended the party's endorsing convention in May, but left after the delegates heckled him for not saying whether he would abide by the endorsement.

As to Sabo's support in the race, Erlandson says it would have been a bigger issue if Sabo didn't back him.

"He is my reference since I graduated from college," Erlandson said. "Early on in this process I asked him if I had his support, and if he said no, I wouldn't be sitting here today running for Congress."

Erlandson has taken some criticism from party activists. For example, environmentalists point out that while Erlandson says he wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he drives an sport utility vehicle. Erlandson says the SUV is for sale.

Others say Erlandson was a staunch defender of the party endorsement when he was party chair, but is now running against the endorsed candidate. Erlandson said he did his job as party chair and is now working to win the September primary.

Erlandson says his biggest selling point with voters is his Washington experience.

"Anybody who has been involved in the business of public policy knows that most of this is based on relationships," Erlandson said. "Somebody who knows the first names of 100 members of Congress is going to have an advantage."


While Erlandson stresses Washington issues, Minneapolis City Council member Paul Ostrow is focusing on the hottest local issue in Minneapolis -- crime.

Ostrow says he wants tighter restrictions on gun sales, and wants to spend an additional $4 billion a year so cities and towns can hire more police officers. Ostrow says he'd pay for it by reversing the Bush tax cuts on upper income earners and cutting the federal payroll by 10 percent.

Paul Ostrow
Minneapolis city councilmember Paul Ostrow is one of several DFLers running for the 5th Congressional District seat.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

While Ostrow is making public safety an issue, he voted to cut nearly 100 police officers from the city budget in 2003. He says the council had to take that action because of state and federal budget cuts.

Ostrow has also directly criticized his opponents. In TV and radio ads, he criticized Keith Ellison for his legal lapses. He says Mike Erlandson has copied Ostrow's public safety plan, and suggests that Reichgott Junge is not making public safety an issue in the campaign.

Ostrow says he's highlighting the differences so voters know that he's the candidate making public safety an issue.

"Campaigns are about making choices, and it is important over the last three weeks of this campaign that each and every one of us distinguishes ourselves from the other campaigns and the other candidates," Ostrow said. "I have done that, I will continue do that, and I will do that in the context in arguing that I am best suited to lead this district."

Three other DFLers are also running in the September primary. They are Andrew Vincent Favorite, Gregg Iverson and Patrick Wiles.

Whoever wins the DFL primary will face Republican Alan Fine, Independence Party member Tammy Lee and Green Party candidate Jay Pond in the Nov. 7 election.