In redrawn 4th District, Bachmann, McCollum supporters weigh benefits

Betty McCollum, Michele Bachmann
Left, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, DFL-Minn., represents the 4th Congressional District. Right, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, from Minnesota's 6th district.
Official photo

When a court panel redrew Minnesota's political boundaries, one of the greatest changes came to the east Twin Cities metropolitan area, where tens of thousands of voters found themselves in a new congressional district.

Voters in Stillwater, Lake Elmo, Woodbury and Afton were moved to a redrawn 4th District from the old 6th District, which had been a Republican stronghold for years. The 4th has been safe turf for Democrats even longer. And that means the 4th District could be new competitive ground for Republicans.

Afton resident Kava Zabawa is excited she will be able to vote in the 4th District for DFL Rep. Betty McCollum this fall. She expects McCollum will pay more attention to her and other constituents' concerns than did 6th District GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has returned from a failed presidential campaign to refocus on on getting reelected to Congress.

"I think people are pretty excited about Betty McCollum representing us. You know just because it makes it so much easier for us," Zabawa said.

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As much as Democrats like Zabawa, now the 4th District, are excited to be done with Bachmann, some Republican voters are peeved they're now in McCollum's district.

"I look at Betty McCollum and all the Democrats in Washington D.C., up to and including the president, they're really out there destroying our country," said Gary Baran of Woodbury.

Kava Zabawa
Afton resident Kava Zabawa is pleased she will be able to vote for Rep. Betty McCollum this fall.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Baran is an officer with the Senate District 56 Republicans. He said he speaks only for himself, not the party.

Baran likes Bachmann so much that he plans to campaign for her even though he can no longer vote for her. He plans to also campaign against McCollum -- the silver lining he sees in his predicament.

"I'm not really thrilled about it all, but now I guess I'll get a chance to work on two campaigns," Baran said.

State Republican Party Deputy Chair Kelly Fenton, who also lives in Woodbury, sees opportunity for Republicans in the new 4th District.

"I'm not going to call the race either way, but it definitely puts another congressional seat in play," Fenton said. She added that many fiscal conservatives have been moved from the 6th to the 4th District, and those voters will not support a Democrat like McCollum.

"Betty McCollum's voting record definitely does not line up with how the voters in Woodbury and that area went out to vote in 2010," Fenton said.

Gary Baran
Woodbury Republican Gary Baran is disappointed he will no longer be able to vote for Rep. Michele Bachmann, but says the silver lining in redistricting is that he can now vote against Rep. Betty McCollum.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

A big indicator of just how competitive the 4th might now be will be the caliber of GOP candidates who file to run against McCollum, said Maureen Shaver, a Republican lobbyist and strategist.

"Here's the deal. In real terms it became less Democratic, no question. That 4th District picked up some very solid Republican territory," Shaver said. "Did it become Republican enough for a serious Republican to take the risk to run? I just don't know."

So far, Dan Flood and Anthony Hernandez are the Republicans running in the 4th District. Neither has previously held an elected office.

Democratic strategist Todd Rapp said he would characterize the new areas of the 4th District more as Republican-leaning than solid Republican territory. He notes while much of the area went Republican in 2010, a majority of voters there supported Barack Obama for president in 2008 and voted for Bachmann's DFL opponent that same year.

"It's turned a very safe seat into a consistently safe seat for Rep. McCollum," Rapp said.

Rapp said even with strong Republican turnout in the new section of the 4th, McCollum would still win elections, but by smaller margins than in her old district. Rapp thinks redistricting in the area will have bigger implications for legislative contests than the congressional race.

Kelly Fenton
Republican Party of Minnesota Deputy Chair Kelly Fenton is one of thousands of 6th District voters who has been moved into the 4th District.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"There's going to be more, I would think, base-level activity for the DFL party in that area now. It's going to have a strong member of Congress there, a Democratic member," Rapp said. I think other statewide Democratic candidates are going to be looking for ways that they can work with Rep. McCollum to make that a stronger DFL area. That's going to be interesting for the legislative races because Woodbury, Lake Elmo -- those are swing areas when it comes to legislative majorities."

Republicans counter by saying they are well organized in the eastern suburbs and that McCollum will find that out this fall.