Sen. Klobuchar draws three Republican challengers

State Rep. Kurt Bills
First-term Republican State Rep. Kurt Bills addresses the GOP Senate District 51 convention at an elementary school in Eagan on Saturday, March 24, 2012.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

After a slow start, the Republican U.S. Senate endorsement campaign in Minnesota is now in full swing.

Three Republicans have put together campaign organizations, are raising money and are courting likely state convention delegates who will decide which candidate gets party backing to run against first-term Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The three Republican Senate candidates all believe that government is too intrusive and too expensive and that Democrats like Klobuchar and President Barack Obama are to blame.

One of them, former state Rep. Dan Severson goes by his old Navy fighter pilot call sign "Doc," wore a brown leather bomber jacket to last Saturday's GOP convention, as attendees ate box lunches in the Mahtomedi High School cafeteria.

Severson, who lives in Sauk Rapids and kicked off his campaign nearly a year ago, stood on a chair and gave a short speech assailing Klobuchar for her spending decisions.

"Sen. Klobuchar is in the Senate. She is not representing our voice. She's not doing her job. What do we do to a Senator who's not doing their job? Fire them. We get them out of there," he told the crowd.

One of the two newcomers to the Senate race, Minnesota Army National Guard Capt. Pete Hegseth, played up his military experience when telling the same convention audience in Mahtomedi why it took him a while to begin campaigning.

Dan Severson
Former Republican State Rep. Dan Severson criticizes DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar as Republicans convention goers eat box lunches in the Mahtomedi High School cafeteria on Saturday, March 24, 2012.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"We got into the race about three weeks ago because I just got back from Afghanistan on a tour with the U.S. Army," he said.

Standing on stage in the high school auditorium, Hegseth drew applause while echoing former President Ronald Reagan's 1964 "A Time for Choosing" speech.

"We can choose a path of more government and more regulation and more debt and more of what we're getting from the Obama administration and Amy Klobuchar, or we can choose a path of limited government and individual freedom and a return to the constitution," said the Stillwater resident, who has never run for public office before.

The latest entrant into the race is first-term Republican state Rep. Kurt Bills of Rosemount, a high school economics teacher. Like Severson and Hegseth, he's has been spending recent weekends at local GOP conventions.

At an elementary school gymnasium in Eagan addressing Senate District 51 Republicans, he said, "We have to face our giants. Our national debt, our deficits, our spending — the way that we handle our money."

Bills says his ease with numbers makes him the best choice to make the case against Klobuchar.

"My ace in the hole is the fact that I've taught for 15 years our various deficits and debt," he said.

But Hegseth says he's in the best position to take on Klobuchar because he can bring the most money to the race. Hegseth says his work with the pro-Iraq and Afghanistan victory group, Vets for Freedom, allows him to tap into national fundraising networks.

Pete Hegseth
Minnesota Army National Guard Capt. Pete Hegseth talking with Republicans at Mahtomedi High Schoo, as he works for party support to face DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuachar.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"Our goal is to draw contrasts as to why we would be the best alternative and one of those is Amy Klobuchar has $4.5 million in the bank and we're going to need a candidate on the Republican side who's got the ability to raise the money to move a message against her," he said.

Severson says his legislative and military experience are his key selling points, and he wants delegates to "see the commitment and the leadership in this campaign that the others just don't have."

Despite Klobuchar's popularity in the polls, the Republicans who hope to run against her this fall insist she will be vulnerable because she supported stimulus spending, the Wall Street and auto company bailouts and the health care overhaul.

Democrats won the last two major statewide elections Minnesota by razor-thin margins. But Independence Party candidates in both of those races attracted a significant number of votes. This time around the IP says it will not endorse a Senate candidate and instead will focus on legislative races.

Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier says just because the last two elections were close doesn't mean this year's will be.

He notes Klobuchar won by more than 20 percentage points just six years ago.

"In particular races particular candidates, if they have a likability advantage and they have far more resources, they can put the race away. And it may not be competitive even while there are competitive races elsewhere on the ballot," he said.

The Republican Senate contenders have until the weekend of May 18 to make their case. That's when delegates to the state convention are expected to endorse a candidate.

All three of the candidates promise to drop out of the race if one of the others wins the endorsement at the State Convention.

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