The 5th district is a DFL stronghold which includes Minneapolis and several suburbs. Many political observers say next Tuesday's primary will likely determine the next occupant of the 5th District seat.
Mike Erlandson spent his noon hour Thursday shaking hands and handing out campaign literature at the farmer's market in downtown Minneapolis. Erlandson, former chief of staff to retiring Congressman Martin Sabo, met with workers on their lunch hour and shoppers examining the produce for sale.
Erlandson raised the stakes in the race by taking direct shots at two of his opponents in a campaign mailing. The four page flyer reminds voters that DFL-endorsed Keith Ellison failed to pay his federal taxes, had his driver's license suspended for not paying parking tickets, and paid fines for filing his campaign finance reports late as a state legislator.
The flyer also criticizes Reichgott Junge for siding with the National Rifle Association against the city of Minneapolis, signing a letter that supported the privatization of Social Security, and championing charter schools. Erlandson says the schools siphon money away from neighborhood schools.
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The mailing also says Reichgott Junge backed a pro-war candidate for president in 2004 at the height of the Iraq war. Reichgott Junge was Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman's campaign chair in Minnesota.
Erlandson says the mailing was meant to highlight the differences between the candidates.
"Certainly a 'compare and contrast' piece that is basically asking the voters to answer questions for themselves, I think is something any campaign does to contrast yourself with the opposition," Erlandson says. "In both of the cases of Ms. Reichgott Junge and Mr. Ellison, we asked questions, and laid out in that piece stuff that's been in the public domain over the course of this campaign for voters to think about -- as a comparison to Mike Erlandson in his record of leadership in the 5th District and his record of getting the job done."
Erlandson's challengers say the campaign literature piece is more than contrasting differences. They call it a "hit piece."
Keith Ellison doesn't dispute Erlandson's claims in the mailing, but says he's disappointed that Erlandson went back on an earlier pledge to run a campaign on the issues. He says Erlandson probably saw poll results that had him trailing both Ellison and Reichgott Junge.
"There's a lot of pressure to try and win here, and sometimes you get bad campaign advice that you should go nasty," Ellison says. "Mike's not a nasty person, he's a pretty good guy. But I think he gave in to the pressure and went negative because he probably thought that's what he had to do."
Ellison says he's focusing on getting DFL activists, union members and peace activists to the polls on primary day.
Reichgott Junge is focused on turning out women, suburban voters and people upset about the health care system. She spent part of the afternoon at the Aliveness Project in south Minneapolis. The center serves as a food shelf for low-income, HIV-positive people. It also provides lunch to about 400 people a day.
Reichgott Junge worked the cafeteria, reminding employees and clients to vote on Tuesday. She also says if elected, she'll work to secure more federal AIDS prevention funding.
Reichgott Junge doesn't shy away from her support for charter schools. But she does say Erlandson is cherry-picking some of the more controversial votes during her 18 years in the Minnesota Senate.
Reichgott Junge voted for a bill in 1985 that barred large cities like Minneapolis from having tougher handgun restrictions, but said it was because she wanted the same law applied to suburban cities. She points to poor rankings by the National Rifle Assocation as an example of her support of tougher gun control laws.
On the issue of privatizing Social Security, Reichgott Junge says she signed a Democratic Leadership Council policy paper laying out the group's agenda for the next decade. She says she supported it because it addressed small business needs and economic development issues, not because it called for the privatization of Social Security.
Reichgott Junge says she's a proven progressive, and is disappointed with Erlandson's mailing.
"There is no question that I'm strong on gun control, there is no question that I have always opposed the Iraq war, there is no question that I always opposed the privatization of Social Security. He says differently. He is just simply misleading the voters," says Reichgott Junge.
Minneapolis City Council member Paul Ostrow, Andrew Vincent Favorite, Gregg Iverson and Patrick Wiles are also running in the DFL primary.
Whichever candidate wins on Tuesday will face Republican Alan Fine, Independence Party member Tammy Lee and Green Party candidate Jay Pond in the Nov. 7 election.