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Pete Hegseth challenges Amy Klobuchar for Senate position

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Pete Hegseth
Pete Hegseth announces his bid for the United States Senate at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, March 1, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar officially has a new Republican challenger.

Combat veteran Pete Hegseth, fresh from an Afghanistan deployment, joined one other Republican in a race to take on Klobuchar, a Democrat who is running for a second term.

Some GOP insiders predict Hegseth will finally bring some attention and money to the Republican side of the Senate race. 

At his state Capitol news conference, Hegseth was quick to criticize the first-term incumbent.

"We have a current senior senator in Minnesota who looks at the world one particular way as to how we should fix the problems we're  facing in our country and for her the answer is more government, it's a failed stimulus, corporate bailouts, government-run health care and more and more debt," Hegseth said. "It's the belief that government can fix those problems."

Hegseth said the best way to create jobs is to lower taxes and reduce regulations on small businesses.

Born in Minneapolis, Hegseth, 31, grew up in Forest Lake and now lives in Stillwater. He serves as a non-active duty captain in the Minnesota Army National Guard.

Hegseth just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he taught counter-insurgency tactics to U.S. and other coalition troops.

In a previous tour of duty to Iraq, he led an infantry combat platoon. He is the recipient of two Bronze Star Medals.

Hegseth is the executive director of Vets for Freedom, a group that describes itself as the "largest pro-victory Iraq and Afghanistan veterans organization."  In that capacity Hegseth has spoken out nationally in favor of the 2007 Iraq troop surge and against calls to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

On the MSNBC program Hardball in 2010, Hegseth criticized Vice President Joe Biden for declaring 2014 the "drop-dead date" for a complete Afghanistan pull out.

"The problem with the vice president's words today, it's always for this administration about finding a way out," Hegseth said. "How soon can we get out?"

When asked when the United States should do in Afghanistan, Hegseth said, "We want to win our damn war."

"At the end of the day what happens on the ground in Afghanistan matters," he said.

At his Senate campaign news conference, Hegseth said it is time for the United States to gradually withdraw troops from Afghanistan. But he said making withdrawal dates public is counterproductive.

Until recently three Republicans were actively campaigning to run against Klobuchar, but when Hegseth signaled his formal campaign announcement was forthcoming last month, two of those candidates dropped out, leaving only four-term former state Rep. Dan Severson.

Severson rolled out his Senate campaign last May, but has attracted little attention or money. Both Severson and Hegseth say they will end their campaign if the other wins the Republican endorsement.

Whoever wins the GOP nomination, most political observers expect the party's challenger will find it difficult to take on Klobuchar, who according to a January poll enjoyed a 61 percent approval rating.

Republican strategist Maureen Shaver, who worked on former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's  campaigns, said she thinks Hegseth may be the kind of candidate who could give the popular Klobuchar some trouble.

"I think it's his personal story that's compelling," she said.

Shaver said Hegseth's resume — which includes a degree from Princeton and his military experience — is an asset. She also said he has proven himself in front of crowds and on television.

"He will attract attention from Republicans who want to continue to the campaigns," Shaver said. "Up until now they're been sitting on the sidelines. There hasn't been anybody of any interest."

Hegseth's story and national profile in military circles might help him attract money from outside of Minnesota. Outside groups that find him an attractive candidate may weigh in on his behalf.

To compete in the general election, Hegseth would need to quickly attract contributions and support. Federal Election Commission records show Klobuchar had more than $4.6 million in campaign cash at the end of last year.