Second Republican joins race to replace Kline

Former state Sen. John Howe
Former state Sen. John Howe formally kicked off his campaign for Congress in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District.
Tom Scheck | MPR News

Two Republicans are now competing to replace John Kline in Congress.

Former state Sen. John Howe on Tuesday joined David Gerson in seeking the Republican endorsement to run for Congress in the 2nd District next year.

Howe formally announced his candidacy at a news conference in St. Paul. The former state senator and mayor of Red Wing said he believes he has the right mix of governing experience, private-sector experience and conservative credentials to win.

"The Republicans need to find the most conservative candidate that's electable," he said.

Howe is seeking the party's endorsement but didn't rule out running in a primary if he doesn't win party backing. He said he'll spend upwards of $500,000 of his own money to win the race.

"If you're going to ask others to invest in you, you're going to need to invest in yourself," he said.

Howe is the first Republican to enter the race since Rep. John Kline announced earlier this month that he won't seek another term.

Several Republicans, including former first lady Mary Pawlenty, former U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden and other state legislators, considered running but decided against it.

One reason may be that David Gerson, a 48-year-old South St. Paul resident, has spent the last three years locking down support from many party delegates who will decide the Republican endorsement.

David Gerson
David Gerson, a Republican seeking the endorsement in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District, speaks to tea party activists in Red Wing.
Tom Scheck | MPR News

At a recent tea party event in Red Wing, Gerson gave about two dozen people an update on his campaign. Dressed in a blue button-down shirt, jeans and a handgun on his hip, Gerson told the tea partyers that he wants Congress to defund Planned Parenthood and that he hopes to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.

Gerson also said he's pleased that Republicans are starting to stand up to their party leaders in Congress.

"I think it's exciting that you had a senator stand up and call their Senate leader a liar," he said. "It's exciting that 24 people would stand up and vote against [Speaker John] Boehner on the first vote."

In the past two elections, Gerson challenged Kline for not being conservative enough. In 2012, Kline defeated Gerson in the Republican primary. In 2014, Gerson dropped out of the race after Kline won party backing.

Gerson decided to run again this year, even before Kline announced his retirement. He has attracted support from local party leaders and is confident he'll win the endorsement regardless of who else enters the race.

"We certainly have the endorsement," he said. "I think anybody who would challenge us would recognize that we are years ahead and relationships ahead. We are the party."

Mike Osskopp sees the situation differently: "David's problem is he can't count. I take what he says with a grain of salt."

Osskopp is a former Republican state legislator who has worked for Republican candidates for governor and Senate. He also worked for Rep. Kline. Osskopp said Gerson is overestimating his support.

"While John was still running, [Gerson] was the place to go for people who were upset with John," Osskopp said. "And now that John's out, there aren't a whole heck of a lot of people who are really firm on Gerson."

Osskopp also said Gerson's fundraising has been lackluster. The latest FEC report shows he had just $4,000 on hand with a debt of $151,000 from past campaigns. Osskopp said delegates will be nervous about those figures, given that the two Democrats in the race, Mary Lawrence and Angie Craig, are millionaires who can spend their own money to win.

But Osskopp also said the Republican field is far from inspiring at this point. He said many of the top-tier candidates looked at the time demands, the travel and the low approval rating of Congress and decided against it.

"It's unfortunate that being a member of Congress has just lost its luster," he said. "It's no longer something that quality people aspire to."

Former state Sen. Ted Daley, former state Rep. Pam Myrha, state Rep. Tony Albright and Savage-based businessman Chris Andryski are other Republicans thinking about jumping into the race.

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