‘Blink and you missed it’ state Senate election shapes up

Updated 12:50 p.m. with new Republican candidate

Both parties will probably need primaries to sort out their special election candidates in an eastern Minnesota Senate district, a DFL-held seat which Republicans say they hope to flip so they can pad a slim majority.

The February 5th special election was called after Sen. Tony Lourey’s resignation to take a cabinet post in the Gov. Tim Walz administration.

“It’s a blink and you missed it” timeline for a race, said Michelle Lee, a former Duluth news anchor who announced a campaign Friday. She joins Lourey’s son, Stu, on the DFL side.

If neither candidate has second thoughts and exits by next Wednesday, both would appear on a Jan. 22 primary ballot.

On the Republican side state Rep. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, is among two candidates to step forward.

Rarick said he was encouraged to consider running even before the Lourey selection to the Walz administration. He said the compressed scheduled and odd timing of the election make turnout a big question mark.

“I do think with as much attention as Minnesota got in this last election cycle that there is a high possibility there will be some burnout and people just won’t care,” Rarick said. “But we’ll just have to deal with that if that seems to be the case.”

The 8th Congressional District Deputy Republican Party Chairman Justin Krych of Esko said he'll be a candidate, too. He said he comes from the end of the district where Republicans have struggled, so he would give his party a shot in the arm.

"My connections to the community and name recognition are something that can put us over the top," Krych said. He won't rule out drawing down his campaign if another candidate is endorsed by party activists, but the timing wouldn't allow him to pull his name from the ballot after Wednesday.

Krych said he would make opposition to raising the gas tax central to his campaign.

The race won't shift the power balance in the Senate but Republicans sense an opportunity to add to what has been a single-seat edge. Sen. Lourey has been comfortably elected to four terms, but some races on the ballot beyond his have been competitive between the parties.

A Lourey has represented the area in the Senate for 22 years, with Becky Lourey preceding her son. Stu Lourey is a legislative aide to Sen. Tina Smith, and declared his bid within hours of his father’s resignation.

Stu Lourey said he isn’t taking the race for granted.

“I’m proud of my family’s commitment to this community and public service. Those are the values I grew up with,” he said. “And I know I have to work hard -- knock on thousands of doors, have countless conversations -- to earn the support of voters here.”

Lee ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the 8th District last year, losing in a primary. She lives in Moose Lake and drew on her long-standing connection to the area in talking about why she’d be a good fit for the Senate district.

“I’ve lived in this district since 1983, I’ve raised a family. My husband and I built a home. I have a long and successful career in this area,” Lee said. “Now it’s time to pay it forward.”

The filing deadline for the race is Tuesday.

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