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Newberger faces long odds against Klobuchar

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Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, campaigned for U.S. Senate in Hinckley.
Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, campaigned for U.S. Senate in Hinckley on August 8, 2017.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

They say David had it tough when he went up against Goliath. Jim Newberger might know the feeling.

Newberger is a state representative from Becker, and so far he's the only Minnesota Republican to announce a run against DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar next year.

He said he's running because he believes conservative Minnesotans are ignored by Klobuchar and fellow Democratic Sen. Al Franken.

Newberger, who has worked 30 years as a paramedic, acknowledged it's a big step to walk away from the reliably Republican Minnesota House seat that he first won in 2012.

"Eventually you have to let go of the side of the pool and swim across the deep end. I'm willing to do that because it needs to be done."

More than 1.8 million Minnesotans voted for Klobuchar in 2012. She won 65 percent of the vote in her quest for a second term and prevailed in 85 of 87 counties.

"Here we have an incumbent who has won both of her elections to the U.S. Senate by wide margins, has raised a considerable amount of money, polls very well and would be difficult to defeat," said University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson. "I think that's why we're not seeing a lot of Republicans emerge to challenge Sen. Klobuchar."

Newberger drew criticism from Democrats two years ago for the racial implications of remarks he made during a House debate on the North Star commuter rail line. DFL lawmakers booed when he suggested the train could run between north Minneapolis and the St. Cloud prison.

Newberger later apologized, saying he misspoke and insisting that his intended point had nothing to do with race.

Now Democrats are largely ignoring him.

A Klobuchar campaign spokesman responded to a request for comment by saying the senator is "focused on getting things done for the people of Minnesota."  

"It's going to be up to her opponents to make their name known. We're not going to do it for them," said Minnesota DFL Party chair Ken Martin.

Newberger is trying to do just that by traveling the state. introducing himself to Republicans he needs in his corner next year.

During an event last month in Hinckley, he highlighted his concerns about the national debt and his opposition to single-payer health care.

Newberger said his top issue is refugee resettlement. He wants to pause the influx and increase vetting. Newberger stressed he's not against refugees, but he wants them to assimilate to American law.

"If you come here from another country, you pack everything you have and you come here. But the one thing you cannot bring with you is your home country's law. You come here to be Americans."    

Asked later if he was referring to refugees from Muslim countries who practice Sharia Law, Newberger said "that's part of it." But he said he is not singling out any one group.

As for the notion that Klobuchar can't be defeated, Newberger scoffed.

"The more people tell me it can't be done, the more fired up I get."