Freedom Club weighs in on Senate District 33 primary

The Freedom Club, a conservative group backed by Minnesota business and wealthy Republican donors, is wading into the GOP primary battle in Senate District 33.

In the last two weeks, the organization, which typically helps out conservative candidates, has sent out two mailers - one in favor of David Osmek, the GOP-endorsed candidate, and one opposing incumbent Republican Rep. Connie Doepke, who already represents constituents who live near Lake Minnetonka.

"They apparently like me better than they like Connie Doepke, and they're showing it rather publicly," said Osmek of the tri-fold mailers that have been showing up in mailboxes around his region.

It's a slight shift for the Freedom Club, which gave Doepke $500 in 2008 for her House race, according to finance records.

Doepke did not return a call for comment.

Both Osmek and Doepke are seeking to replace retiring Sen. Gen Olson in the Minnesota Senate.

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The Freedom Club has been around for years, but has recently become an important player in Minnesota elections, spending several hundred thousand dollars in 2010 to usher a new class of Republican legislators into Minnesota Legislature.

The group's founder and primary benefactor, Robert Cummins, is the state's most generous Republican donor. He shuns public attention and traditionally has influenced Minnesota politics through donations to the Freedom Club, the party or directly to specific candidates.

The law prevents the Freedom Club from coordinating its direct mail or any other advertising with the candidates.

But Osmek has seen both mail pieces.

"One is a really well-designed - frankly, I think it was better designed than my first piece," he said. It focused on a "message about Dave Osmek being the Republican endorsed candidate and that I'm the right choice to lead Senate District 33."

The second piece goes after Doepke's votes on a number of issues, including her spending record, Osmek said.

Osmek has not been formally endorsed by the group, which typically invites select candidates to speak to the organization as part of its vetting process.

Nevertheless, Osmek has had informal conversations with individual members of the Club who live in his area, and says that among the topics of discussion is his support for right-to-work legislation that would make unions voluntary. It's a top issue for the Freedom Club and reportedly for Cummins.

Osmek isn't the only candidate in District 33 that's getting an assist from the Freedom Club. The group has also sent out a mailer opposing Rep. Steve Smith, Osmek said. Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers recently announced that he's backing Smith's opponent, Cindy Pugh, who won the party's endorsement earlier this year.