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Med tech executive seeks to challenge Rep. Dean Phillips

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Republican medical technology executive Kendall Qualls
Republican medical technology executive Kendall Qualls formally launched a congressional bid to unseat first-term Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips in Minnesota’s 3rd District on Monday.
Courtesy of Kendall for Congress

Republican medical technology executive Kendall Qualls on Monday launched a congressional bid to unseat first-term Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips in a swing suburban district.

The Medina resident is executive vice president with PotentiaMetrics, an Austin, Texas-based data analytics company that he has described as "a disruptive startup company empowering patients with cancer" using artificial intelligence. His LinkedIn profile says he was "recruited to raise capital, expand customer base and accelerate revenue growth."

Qualls has never run for office before and hasn’t publicly staked out any policy positions since filing paperwork for his candidacy last week. He says part of his motivation for running is the mood of the electorate.

“I've never seen our country more divided than it is now and this is one of the reasons I wanted to join,” he said.

If he wins, Qualls would become Minnesota's first black GOP member of Congress. He says he voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and would vote for his reelection.

Qualls says Phillips has not brought the change to Washington he promised when he challenged five-term Republican Erik Paulsen for the 3rd District seat, starting with his vote to reinstate Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. 

"If you're going to go to Washington and be apart of the club — that the status quo — that's not what I believe the voters voted for,” he said.

His profile on PotentiaMetrics' website says he spent more than 20 years leading marketing and sales teams in the biopharmaceutical and medical technology industries at companies including Medtronic, Covidien and Johnson & Johnson. 

For the past 10 years, it says, he has been "tapped to lead new product launches or recruited to revive stalled or declining businesses." He also served as a captain in the Army for five years. It says he holds an MBA from the University of Michigan, a master of arts from the University of Oklahoma and a bachelor's degree from Cameron University.

Phillips, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist thanks to his family's liquor company, capitalized in 2018 on suburban opposition to President Donald Trump to defeat Paulsen with 56 percent of the vote and flip what had been a reliable Republican seat for decades. The state's most affluent district had already been changing from red to purple. Hillary Clinton carried it by 9 percentage points in 2016. 

Paulsen tried hard to distance himself from Trump, skipping two Minnesota rallies with the president. But when Trump tweeted his "strong endorsement" of Paulsen, Phillips said it showed that Paulsen was a phony moderate.

Once he got to Washington, Phillips joined the bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus. He traveled twice to the U.S.-Mexico border to see facilities and conditions for migrants and search for solutions that lawmakers from both parties could support. He sided against some fellow Democrats, including Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, in pushing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to drop liberal demands and approve a more modest Senate version of a border aid bill this month. He's also been criticized from the left for opposing Trump's impeachment.

Phillips raised nearly $375,000 in the first half of 2019 and had just over $174,000 in cash left on hand, with debts of nearly $306,000, mostly to himself.

In a statement, the Phillips campaign welcomed Qualls to Minnesota and the race.