Walz wins in 1st District

Tim Walz
A jubilant Tim Walz celebrates his victory in the 1st Congressional District over incumbent Rep. Gil Gutknecht.
MPR Photo/Mark Steil

For months, political experts said that democratic challenger Tim Walz was a good candidate, but nobody could beat Republican Gil Gutknecht. In his concession speech, Gutknecht seemed surprised himself.

"You know I've never done this before. I've never had to call my opponent and say it looks like he's got enough of a lead now with the precincts that are out, that I don't think we can catch him," Gutknecht said.

Gutknecht says his race got caught up in a wave of anger at the Republican Party.

"Because I do believe, fundamentally, people here in southern Minnesota are conservative people. And I don't think you really change that. I just think that this year there was a frustration with the war, and with the president, and with some of the scandals that have been in Washington."

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Gutknecht wasn't the only one making concession speeches last night. Several other Republican candidates in Olmsted County also lost, in a region that typically leans Republican. The mood at the party headquarters in Rochester was somber.

In Mankato, the Democrats held a party hailing Walz as an independent leader.

Walz says his victory is a show of support for a new vision and non-partisan politics.

"We have an opportunity now to lead this country in the direction it needs to go, leaving behind the divisive partisan politics. We need to start seeing our neighbors not as Democratic neighbors, Republican neighbors. They're our neighbors, they're Americans. This country can do better. We start tomorrow," Walz said.

Walz was a high school teacher and football coach. He is also a command sergeant major in the Army National Guard. He served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Like many Democrats, Walz latched onto the call for change in government. He paired that with a grassroots campaign by a political outsider.

"The greatest thing we have and the greatest opportunity we have was casting that ballot today. Many people have felt that doom and gloom over the past few years. We have been in a deep funk; we have been making bad decisions. But you know what, I have been saying it for months, there was nothing wrong with America that an election wouldn't fix."

Some of Walz's agenda in Washington includes blocking the billion dollar federal loan to railroad company DM&E. He supports creating a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. Walz says he will also campaign to eliminate the tax cut for the wealthiest one percent of Americans. And he says he is interested in health care reform.

But Walz's biggest issue was the Iraq War. He says the United States needs to develop an exit strategy for the country's troops.

"I think talking honestly about the war, I think talking honestly about the economy and about how the vast majority of the people weren't benefiting from it," he said.

Walz plans to spend the next few days with his newborn son, Gus.