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Republicans look for an opening

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Republicans are looking for any opportunity to get a foothold in a state government dominated by Democrats.

Sen. Scott Newman announced Thursday that he is seeking to upset two-term Democratic Attorney General Lori Swanson and become the first Republican to hold the office in 43 years. The announcement means Republicans now have challengers for every statewide office.

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A few minutes later, about 60 Republican state legislative candidates gathered on the Capitol steps, where their leader proclaimed that the GOP is ready to retake control of the House chamber after losing it two years ago.

And today, Republicans gather in Rochester for a two-day state convention that should produce endorsed U.S. Senate and governor candidates, even though the races move on to the Aug. 12 primary election.

Democrats gather in Duluth today with only a two-person secretary of state race to settle.

Democratic-Farmer-Laborite politicians hold every statewide office in Minnesota government and control the state House and Senate. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, made it clear Thursday that will be used against Democrats.

“Single-party control hasn’t served Minnesotans very well,” he said, with new candidates and incumbents standing behind him at the Capitol.

Republicans need to win the seats they already hold as well as seven more to regain control. He said that nine House districts now held by Democrats voted for Republican Mitt Romney in the last presidential election, meaning GOP chances are good.

Phillip Nelson, a Bemidji candidate running against Democratic Rep. John Persell, said many of the Republican candidates are 35 or younger. He is 32.

“I want to learn how to steer leadership,” he said.

Many of the GOP candidates come from business backgrounds, like Dave Baker of Willmar, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Mary Sawatzky.

“I’ve never done this before,” the 52-year-old Baker said, but he and other businessmen-candidates “know how to create a new job.”

Business has been “deeply hurt” under Democratic domination, Baker added.

Tim Miller of Prinsburg is making his second attempt to unseat Rep. Andrew Falk, D-Murdock. He is a consultant for businesses and non-profits.

“My skill is casting a vision,” Miller said, adding that Minnesota government lacks that ability.

While GOP candidates declared they could win back the House after two years of DFL control, Newman said that more than four decades of Democratic control of the attorney general’s office was more than enough.

The Hutchinson Republican cited what he called “a sense of entitlement to that office by the DFL Party” and said Swanson has put her party ahead of her office’s duties.

Newman said state agencies’ power has grown too much in the past four decades and that he would weigh in as attorney general to try to rein that in. Agencies now write rules, investigate alleged violations and then adjudicate them, Newman said.

DFL Chairman Ken Martin said Republicans waited until a day before they were to endorse a candidate to get someone to run against Swanson.

“As a legislator, Newman has not served on commerce committees that deal with issues similar to those handled by the attorney general’s office,” Martin said. “He’s voted consistently with his party and has supported constitutional amendments denying people the right to marry or to vote without identification; eliminating middle-class jobs; and deep cuts to the state’s public higher education system.”

Doug Belden of the St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.