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Paulsen wins 3rd Dist., keeps seat Republican

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Erik Paulsen
Erik Paulsen gives his acceptance speech for 3rd district congressional seat at the Minnesota Republican Party headquarters in the Sheraton Hotel in Bloomington, Minn.
MPR Photo/Chris Kelleher

In his victory speech last night, Erik Paulsen made a point of reaching out to all the voters who didn't support him.

"We have serious problems in this country, and I pledge to be working for all of you in the future, because 3rd District residents expect bipartisan cooperation to find solutions to the challenges facing our country. And I will roll up my sleeves to do that on day one," said Paulsen.

Paulsen won a bruising campaign marked by a slew of misleading and negative political ads. Independent groups painted Paulsen as an enemy of veterans programs. Paulsen's ads called his DFL opponent a liar. But last night, he called Madia "honorable."

"Politics sometimes has sharp elbows, but now we have to come together," said Paulsen.

Erik Paulsen
Erik Paulsen poses for photos on stage after his acceptance speech for 3rd district congressional seat at the Minnesota Republican Party headquarters in the Sheraton Hotel in Bloomington, Minn.
MPR Photo/Chris Kelleher

It was the most expensive Congressional race in Minnesota this year with about $8 million spent on TV ads alone. And Paulsen's win is impressive, because when it came to money, he was actually the underdog. 

He and his DFL opponent Ashwin Madia each raised about the same amount. But independent groups and national political parties also poured money into the race. And there was a lot more Democratic money than Republican, by a margin of three to one.

Paulsen and Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann both survived a national political tidal wave that gave Democrats the presidency and increased their majorities in both houses of Congress. That means Paulsen won't have much power when he gets to Washington, but he says he's not worried about that.

"There's always frustrations when you're in the minority. I've been in the minority in the state Legislature, but I'll also tell you this: As a member of the minority, I was able to accomplish a lot," said Paulsen. "I accomplished more in the minority than I did the year before as the majority leader, and that comes from building relationships."

Paulsen served 14 years in the Minnesota House. He's also a business analyst for Target corporation. He is 43 year old and has four daughters.

Ashwin Madia
Democratic 3rd District congressional candidate Ashwin Madia speaks to supporters in Osseo, Minn., the day before the election.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

In addition to that mention in his victory speech, the Paulsen girls also starred in one of his campaign commercials. 

Erik Paulsen got his start in politics working for former Republican U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz and retiring Congressman Ramstad. On the campaign trail Paulsen touted his connections to Ramstad, but he also acknowledged that he has more conservative views on social issues than Ramstad does.

Democrats sought to exploit that, but came up short. DFL candidate Ashwin Madia ran on his credentials as an Iraq war veteran and a message of fiscal discipline. In his concession speech he said he had no regrets about his campaign.

"I might not have been the right messenger," Madia said even as his audience erupted in assurances that he was. "But our message was right."

Madia had never run for office before. His parents moved to the U.S. from India and settled in Minnesota when he was in high school. He's only 30 years old, and he surprised the party establishment by beating a better-known state senator for the party endorsement. He proved to be a effective fundraiser, tapping a wellspring of support from other Indian-Americans around the country. 

Madia says he hasn't thought about challenging Paulsen to a rematch in two year. But he does hint his political career isn't over, yet.

I think that I'm doing to go back to work. I need to earn some money, but I'm going to continue to stay involved," said Madia.

Independence Party candidate David Dillon garnered 10 percent of the vote. The Brooklyn Park business owner funded his campaign mostly out of his own pocket, but he was no match for the millions spent by Paulsen and Madia. Dillon said he could have spent more of his own money, but he decided it wasn't worth it.