DFLers square off in the 3rd District

Dialing for delegates
Ashwin Madia (left,) a lawyer and Iraq war veteran making his first run for office, is in an intense endorsement battle with Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka. They are both candidates for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., who is not seeking re-election.
MPR Photos/Curtis Gilbert

Madia will walk into the convention with more delegates than his opponent, Bonoff, a state senator in her second term.

That's no small feat for the lawyer and Iraq war veteran. He just turned 30, and he's making his first run for office. But he hasn't sewn up the endorsement, at least not yet.

"I am telling my team to play as though we're four touchdowns back, like we have been this entire campaign," Madia said. "We're not taking anything for granted. We're not taking a singe delegate for granted. We're still working very, very hard."

Winning endorsement means getting 60 percent of the vote, and according to his campaign and an independent count by Minnesota Public Radio, he's about seven votes shy of that right now. But that doesn't mean the convention will deadlock, because the delegates don't just vote once.

If neither candidate has 60 percent on the first ballot, then the delegates can vote again, and again, and again.

"The total number of rounds that we're preparing for the entire convention for a number of different votes is 12 rounds of ballots," said credentials committee co-chair Teresa Foushee .

While not all 12 ballots are for the congressional endorsement voting, Foushee said they did make up more rounds than usual to prepare for the Madia/Bonoff race. She is also ready just in case they run out.

"We have extra paper, and we'll have extra envelopes," Foushee explained, as well as some scissors.

Terri Bonoff admits Madia's campaign was much more successful at getting his supporters elected delegates, but she also says Madia is right not to take his lead for granted.

"My intention is to reach every single delegate in this race, and I don't look at them as Bonoff delegates or Madia delegates," Bonoff said.

Almost all the delegates have publicly expressed a preference in the race, but as of a month ago there were about 15 or so who hadn't. And that select group has gotten special attention.

"Well, it's been probably every day since I've been elected that I hear from either candidate or both," said Tom Casey.

But Casey, a delegate from Mound, is still undecided. He's holding out, because he says neither candidate's Web site goes into enough specifics on environmental issues.

"I want a very, very comprehensive statement about what they plan to do with global warming, for example," he said. "Also, protecting our national parks and national forests and Fish and Wildlife administered wetlands and refuges."

Casey says, since he started complaining, the campaigns have added some detail about those issues, but he wants to see more. At this point, he says he'll likely make up his mind at the convention.

Shaun Felegy of Coon Rapids was also undecided when he was elected a delegate.

"I was really kind of torn between going with my head, which would be experience and a proven kind of record -- which was Bonoff -- and my heart was Ashwin Madia, because he had such energy and passion and drive," Felegy said.

This week, Felegy decided to follow his heart.

Madia has so far won over four of those previously undecided delegates.

And Bonoff, who went from being the favorite in the race to the underdog, has actually been a little more successful with the undecideds -- she's snagged at least six, according the Minnesota Public Radio's survey of delegates.

One of those was Erin Berg, a teacher from Champlin.

Berg says Bonoff's experience will make her more electable, and she doesn't trust that Madia is really a true blue Democrat.

"He supported John McCain in 2000," she said. "He supported Bob Dole in 1996."

Madia counters that he's a faithful DFLer, now. He says he's never voted for George W. Bush.

"If we are going into this election cycle in the third District and saying that anyone who has ever supported a Republican before has nothing to contribute to this debate, and they might as well keep their mouth shut, then I think we're going to have a very hard time winning the third district," Madia said.

The district, which covers the western suburbs of Minneapolis, has sent Republicans to Congress for the last 50 years. But those suburbs aren't as solidly Republican as they once were.

Because the incumbent Republican Jim Ramstad isn't seeking re-election, it's seen as one of the most competitive Congressional races in the country.

State Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie, and Independence Party candidate David Dillon are running unopposed in their parties.

The DFL race will probably be settled this weekend. Unless of course neither Madia nor Bonoff can muster 60 percent of those DFL delegates on Saturday. Then they'd have to face off in a September primary.