If campaign contributions are any measure, Democrats in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District are eager for a chance to try to unseat Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann next year.
Two DFL candidates are battling for the right to challenge the lightning-rod incumbent, and it might take an expensive and divisive primary to decide which one of them gets the party nomination.
The two candidates are State Sen. Tarryl Clark, who represents the St. Cloud area and is the Senate's assistant majority leader, and Dr. Maureen Reed, a physician and former member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.
After 30 years in medicine, Reed has a lot of opinions about health care. Reed, who lives in Grant, says she has seen rising health care costs cut away at family budgets and government services.
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She says she's grown tired of watching "armchair experts" shape a federal health care reform measure. Reed says that's why she's running for Congress.
"When President Obama got elected (and) put the health care agenda on the front burner of the nation's picture, I thought to myself, 'I can make a contribution here,'" said Reed. "I looked on the congressional Web site and discovered there are very few people in Congress with any kind of a health care background at all. So I thought, 'This is the time. I'm going to do this.'"
Since entering the race five months ago, Reed has said she would seek the DFL Party endorsement to challenge Rep. Michele Bachmann, the GOP incumbent. But Reed's pledge to abide by that process is wavering.
She's been frustrated by all the union endorsements going to her DFL opponent, Sen. Tarryl Clark. Reed says she wants to keep all her options open, including a primary. Clark has said she will abide by the party endorsement.
Reed describes herself as a made-in-Minnesota moderate. Her last campaign was in 2006, when she ran as the lieutenant governor running mate of Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson, who received 6 percent of the vote.
Reed says she thinks her experience with independent voters gives her a better chance than Clark to win in the GOP-leaning 6th district.
"I know what independents think. I know what's important to them. We know where they live, and we can speak directly to them," said Reed. "In the 6th district, our DFL cannot win if it only gets DFL votes."
Reed says Clark's electoral success is limited to one of the most liberal pockets of the district. Clark won her St. Cloud Senate seat in a 2005 special election. She won re-election in 2006, and is currently the assistant Senate majority leader.
Clark, who entered the race in July, rejects Reed's analysis.
"[Reed] is pretty new to all this, so I don't think she's actually really looked at what our community is like," said Clark. "I can think of an awful lot of conservative Republicans that would be surprised to find they live in a liberal community, and I don't think the numbers bear it out. She is saying things that usually people say that want me to lose, and usually it's Republicans that say that."
Clark doesn't want to talk much about Reed. She says she's focusing on her own campaign and on the incumbent she wants to unseat. Clark claims Bachmann, who is a high-profile critic of President Obama and the Democratic Party, isn't fighting for her constituents.
"Families in the 6th district are facing a lot of challenges right now. And there are some great opportunities with this new president. He wants to shake up the status quo. And currently we have someone in Washington who's not working for the people in our district," said Clark. "I want to go to work hard, like I have in this state, to make sure that issues that are facing our families, our kids, our seniors, our veterans, our communities, our small businesses are dealt with."
Both DFL candidates have had early success raising money. Recent campaign reports show Clark with $270,000 in the bank, and Reed with $311,000 on hand. Bachmann is sitting on $617,000 with a year to go before the election.
Kay Wolsborn, a political science professor at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University, says the campaign contributions are impressive and an early indication of a competitive race.
But she says the division of contributions between two challengers is good news for the incumbent. Wolsborn says Bachmann would also benefit if Clark and Reed square off in a DFL primary.
"Regardless of who wins the primary, they've done a couple of things. They've each expended a lot of their resources moving on into the primary season. And then they've provided a lot of material for Bachmann to run against," said Wolsborn. "You can't compete against someone without having a lot of material out there."
Democrats in the 6th District are scheduled to meet March 27 to endorse either Reed or Clark to run against Bachmann.