Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, is the reason there will be a Republican primary in the 1st District. He skipped the endorsing convention earlier this year after it looked unlikely that he would win, and declared he would take his candidacy to the people.
Every day he goes door to door. Karen Krahn is a stylist at Hair Artist Salon in Rochester. She's also a corn grower. She wants to know what Day thinks of ethanol. He says he likes it, mostly.
"It's out there and people are talking about it a lot," he explained, watching Krahn closely. "And one of the things that's happening is the corn, not the corn costs going up so much as people are bringing up, well, is the corn going for food or energy?"
Krahn responds that corn prices have gone up, but she believes there's a way to increase supply. Day listens.
Day's opinions on ethanol may not be clear, but Krahn likes that he's the first politician to ever visit her shop.
Day does have other, clearer, opinions. He believes in developing alternative energy. He says oil drilling in ANWAR and off-shore will quickly reduce gas prices.
Day wants local police to enforce federal immigration laws. He says taxes are a detriment to progress. He's proud to be a veteran.
And while he thinks the Republican endorsed candidate, Mayo Clinic physician Brian Davis, may be very bright, he says Davis doesn't know how to write a bill or negotiate with Democrats.
"What we're trying to do is take my experience, name recognition, and have I done a good job or not over the last 17 years," Day said. "If I can get out to everyone and they talk about it enough, that's what's going to be important to a whole host of people."
Candidate Brian Davis has a different take.
"I'm not a career politician," he said.
Davis says Dick Day's weakness is that he's played party politics for decades.
"I've worked in the energy field, the health care field, and I'm a resident of Rochester," Davis said. "I'm used to solving problems, whether it's as an engineer or dealing with cancer patients."
Davis holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and worked in nuclear energy before going to medical school. While he lacks political experience, he says he knows what needs to be done to lower gas prices.
"We are the only country in the world that does not allow off-shore drilling, and yet we're the largest consumer of oil and the third largest producer," Davis said. "But it's been going down since the 1970s, partly because of government policy that prevents us from developing our own resources."
Davis wants to cut subsidies for ethanol and wind. He is against federal funding for stem cell research. And he believes undocumented workers are hurting the U.S. economy.
On the issues, Davis and Day are very similar. But there's a big difference between the two in fundraising. In the second quarter of 2008, Day raised less than $11,000. Davis raised almost $400,000, including $100,000 of his own money.
University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson says that's a bad sign for Day.
"There is an argument to be made that based on his experience, Day is more electable in the general election," Pearson said. "But if he can't show that he can raise enough money to beat Walz, then that electability argument goes out the window."
Despite the disappointing fundraising, Day insists that he will be a candidate in the primary.
Kathryn Pearson says that will help Tim Walz.
"It distracts the focus from simply attacking Walz to also campaigning against each other," she said.
That will likely mean no one will know how the Republican candidate stacks up against Walz until Sept. 10, the day after the Republican primary.
After this story was published, the Davis campaign objected to MPR News' description of his position as opposed to ethanol subsidies. Davis told MPR News that while he felt the subsidies were a good idea when they began, he now supports phasing them out.
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