Republicans battle each other for chance to unseat Rep. Walz

Rep. Tim Walz
Minnesota 1st District Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Republicans in southern Minnesota think they have a good chance of returning Minnesota's 1st District seat to the GOP. Republican delegates meet in Mankato Saturday to endorse a candidate to run against Democratic Rep. Tim Walz.

Four Republicans have been actively campaigning for their party's backing to run against Walz.

Each accuses Walz of supporting increased government spending. All four are trying to tie Walz to national Democratic leaders like President Obama and House speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Only one Republican will end up facing off against Walz, and each of four candidates is promising to step aside if he doesn't win the endorsement.

State Rep. Randy Demmer of Hayfield says his background in farming, small business and local and state government makes him more qualified to represent the 1st District than his Republican opponents.

"The other people running in this race do not fit all of those perspectives, do not fit all of those categories and I think we somebody in Washington at this very important time that has the perspective and the understanding of the things that are important to 1st District residents," he said.

Demmer unsuccessfully sought the GOP endorsement to run against Walz two years ago. This time around he may be the front-runner, which might explain why some of the other endorsement hopefuls are taking aim at him.

State Rep. Randy Demmer
Republican State Rep. Randy Demmer who hopes to win the 1st District GOP endorsement to tun against Democratic Rep. Tim Walz.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"To distinguish myself from Randy Demmer I just make the point that I'm genuine," said Allen Quist, a well-known conservative Republican from St. Peter. Quist served in the Minnesota House in the 1980s. In 1994, he won the Republican party endorsement to run against incumbent Republican Gov. Arne Carlson.

Citing Demmer's voting record, Quist says Demmer is not the conservative he claims to be.

"This guy is just pretending to be someone he's not. I just don't think the Republicans are going to go for that," he said.

Like Quist, the name Hagedorn is well known in Minnesota Republican politics. Tom Hagedorn represented parts of southern Minnesota in Congress from the mid 1970s to the early 1980s. His son Jim Hagedorn, of Blue Earth, hopes to follow suit.

Jim Hagedorn has worked for the federal government in Washington for most his professional life. He moved back to Minnesota last year.

Hagedorn has also called Demmer's conservatism into question, particularly Demmer's support three years ago for legislation to increase energy efficiency, and set statewide goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"I've raised the issue that his vote for the Next Generation Energy Act was, in my opinion, a liberal vote. It was bad one," Hagedorn said. "It's going to drive up energy costs for southern Minnesotans."

Demmer vigorously defends his voting record and suggests desperation is driving the stepped up attacks from some of his opponents.

"I don't vote based on how a vote is being scored," hes said. "I vote based on what the principles and the values and the understanding that I have that the people I represent have and that means that you cross over sometimes. You don't necessarily go with the Republican line every single time."

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty also supported the energy bill Hagedorn is criticizing Demmer for backing.

Jim Engstrand, of Pine Island, announced his campaign just a couple of months ago. He served with the Minnesota National Guard in Iraq. Walz was elected in 2006 after talking a lot about his military service with the National Guard. Engstrand said that as a veteran, he can strip support from Walz in a way the other GOP contenders cannot.

"Obviously I wouldn't be here if I thought they were capable of beating him thoroughly and were the most comprehensive I likely would not have gotten into this race," he said.

While Republicans think they have a good shot at replacing Walz in Congress, most acknowledge they face an uphill battle.

Walz won in 2008 with more than 60 percent of the vote and he seems confident he will be able counter GOP criticism of legislation like the stimulus and health care bills in the first district.

"Nationally, I think Democrats have done a terrible job of explaining this to people, so I can understand some of the frustration," Walz said. "But that's where I'll, you know, seven months at doing my job and talking about this and answering questions and showing why this is a smart choice."

Walz has already raised nearly $1.1 million dollars for his re-election effort -- six times as much money as all of the Republicans combined. The Republican Congressional Campaign Committee says it's ready to help whichever Republican ends up opposing Walz.

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