Demmer wins GOP endorsement in 1st District

State Rep. Randy Demmer
State Rep. Randy Demmer talks to delegates at the 1st District GOP endorsing convention Saturday, April 17 in Mankato. Demmer won the party's endorsement in the contest to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in the November election.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Republicans from southern Minnesota have endorsed State Rep. Randy Demmer to run against DFL 1st District U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in the November election.

As Republicans from the district met in Mankato Saturday to decide which of four candidates would get their endorsement to run against Tim Walz, one referred to the DFL congressman as a "hard-core liberal activist." Another called Walz's voting record the "tyranny of the day."

Another spoke about a liberal agenda to bankrupt the nation and move to global governance. Criticism of the Democratic-led health care overhaul abounded, as did talk about protecting freedom.

It took several hours -- with lots of sign waving, chanting and eight ballots. But in the end, state Rep. Randy Demmer of Hayfield won.

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The endorsement ended up being a battle between Demmer and former state Rep. Allen Quist, and ended with Quist's withdrawal after the seventh ballot.

Also vying for the endorsement of the roughly 250 delegates were Jim Hagedorn and Jim Engstrand, who dropped out after they had poor showings in the first few rounds of balloting.

Demmer is serving his fourth term in the Legislature. He told delegates he reflected the 1st District more than the other Republican candidates. He's farmed, he owned some auto parts stores and he served on the school board before being elected to the state House.

Demmer accused Walz of being at the beck and call of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her "liberal northern California constituents," rather than representing southern Minnesota.

1st District GOP convention
Delegates to the GOP's 1st Congressional District Convention met Saturday, April 17, 2010, at Minnesota State University Mankato to endorse one of four candidates to run against incumbent DFL Rep. Tim Walz.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

In accepting the endorsement, Demmer told delegates he looked forward to returning the 1st Congressional District seat to GOP control.

"And put it back where it's supposed to be, with conservative, common-sense values -- and take Washington back in a direction we all know it's supposed to be going," said Demmer.

The State DFL party issued a statement accusing Demmer of pandering to the far right as a state legislator.

Congressman Walz's campaign accused Demmer of six months of negative campaigning.

Walz has raised more than $1 million for his re-election campaign. He's also dropped 50 pounds. He said the weight loss is not part of his re-election battle plan, but is instead intended to set a good example for his constituents.

Walz said he understands many people in the 1st District are angry with Washington. He said that's why he ran against a longtime GOP incumbent in 2006.

DFL Rep. Tim Walz
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-Minn.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

Walz said he's confident he will be able to convince the people of southern Minnesotans that the federal stimulus and health care laws make sense.

"That 'throw the bums out' attitude is something I understand very clearly. The thing is though, as I think people are smart enough to ask the question and answer it before they vote is,'What's the other bum offering?' And at this point in time, I don't see much," said Walz.

Independence Party candidate Steve Wilson is also campaigning for Walz's job.

Wilson is promising a positive, solutions-based message. Wilson noted that national polls show more Americans call themselves independents than Republicans or Democrats. Wilson predicted 1st District voters will welcome his message and style.

"I think when people really get to the point where they're tired of the bickering and they're tired of the mud-slinging, and they want a place to go where we're going to have solutions, then I think people will look at our campaign," said Wilson.

Minnesota State University Mankato political science professor Joe Kunkel doesn't believe Walz is as vunerable as Republicans believe. Kunkel noted that Walz was elected and re-elected with support from moderates, and even some conservatives, along with Democrats.

"The race overall is going to be a test of how big the Republican tide is going to be," said Kunkel. "We expect some Republican tide and certainly Democratic losses, but I think it's going to take a pretty big tide to get Walz out of there."

The Republican Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting Walz for defeat. That could be critical for Randy Demmer, who, including loans to his own campaign, had raised less than one-tenth of the money Walz had through the end of last month.