State Sen. Bonoff challenges Paulsen for Congress

State Sen. Terri Bonoff said she would run for Congress in Minnesota's 3rd District, a seat now held by Republican Erik Paulsen. Jeff Thompson | MPR Photo

State Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, launched a campaign Saturday to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, elevating the race for that seat and the one she's giving up in the Legislature.

Bonoff was prepared to declare her candidacy at a local DFL party convention. It will be her second attempt at winning a congressional seat, having come up short for her party's endorsement in 2008. Paulsen went on to win the western suburbs seat and has cruised to re-election three times.

Paulsen opens the 3rd District race with a considerable advantage, mainly the $2.3 million he has amassed in his fundraising account. Bonoff said that she will be competitive in fundraising.

"I won't compete on a shoestring," Bonoff said. "I will give everything I've got to raising the money to compete."

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In discussing her motivation for running, Bonoff said she's concerned about divisive rhetoric in the presidential race and in Washington. She described herself as "fiercely independent."

Bonoff said she's upset Paulsen hasn't been more vocal about stances taken by the leading Republican presidential candidates.

"Taking on an incumbent is a very challenging thing, and it's a long shot to be frank. It's not easy to take on an incumbent, but I have not heard Erik Paulsen reject what Donald Trump stands for and what Ted Cruz stands for," Bonoff said.

But she said she isn't banking on the uncertain political mood _ driven in large part by Trump's unconventional run _ to lift her candidacy.

"I don't need Donald Trump to help me because I wish Donald Trump wasn't in the race," she said.

Paulsen's team issued a statement through campaign manager John-Paul Yates calling Bonoff "a failed congressional candidate retread back for another try."

"Bonoff's record will be a heavy, heavy weight around her campaign again. Bonoff raised income, gas and sales taxes on Minnesota families and rewarded herself with a fat 35 percent pay raise," he said, referring to some of her votes as a Minnesota legislator.

With Bonoff's entrance, Minnesota could have three congressional races to watch this fall. Democrats think they have a shot to claim the 2nd Congressional District seat that Republican John Kline is giving up, although there are several GOP candidates running to keep it in their party's hands. The 8th Congressional District in northern Minnesota is a rematch between incumbent DFL Rep. Rick Nolan and Republican challenger Stewart Mills III, who fell short after an expensive 2014 campaign.

Bonoff's bid also opens up a competitive race for the Senate seat she's leaving behind. Republicans have long coveted the district and expect it to be more in play now that the incumbent is stepping aside. They need a net gain of six seats to snatch the majority from Democrats.