Dems think Rep. Kline is weaker in new 2nd Districtby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota's redrawn 2nd Congressional District has a trio of Democrats weighing a challenge to incumbent U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Republican who could be more vulnerable than he has been in past elections.
Dakota County Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord, former DFL state Rep. Mike Obermueller of Eagan, Minn., and Northfield City Council member Patrick Ganey have announced that they will challenge Kline, who has represented the sprawling district south of the Twin Cities for 10 years.
In the recent round of redistricting, the 2nd District lost conservative ground in Carver and Le Sueur Counties to the south. It gained solid Democratic turf to the north, picking up parts of South St. Paul and West St. Paul.
Kline declined to comment. But the changed district lines have the three Democrats optimistic about their chances.
"I think it opens up some real opportunities for Democrats in this district," said Gaylord, also a former mayor of South St. Paul.
Gaylord, who is new to the district, said voters are unhappy with partisanship and gridlock in Congress and want changes. She points to her expertise in housing and transportation as advantages.
"I bring to this a broad background in public policy," she said.
Obermueller agrees that redistricting left Democrats an opening.
"I have wanted to run for Congress for a long time," he said. "This seems like an opportunity."
But Obermueller said Kline's recent votes have left him vulnerable.
In particular, Obermueller is critical of Kline's vote for the budget plan authored by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, which seeks to change Medicare by providing recipients with federal grants to buy their own insurance.
Obermueller favors cutting Medicare costs by allowing the program to negotiate with drug companies and other internal measures, rather than moving toward private sector competition.
Ganey is serving his first term on the Northfield council. A Carleton College fundraiser, he said education is a major concern for him.
His priorities, he said, include "Head start programs for the youngest kids, giving additional training to stay-at-home moms who want to re-enter the workforce, helping college be affordable for families that want to send their kids to college and really helping veterans as they transition from military to civilian life."
Each of the three Democrats has pledged to abide by the party endorsement and drop out of the race if one of the others wins the endorsement at the district DFL convention later this month.
Democrats have reason to be optimistic about the 2nd District, Hamline University professor David Schultz said. He notes that the Republican advantage in the district has dropped from four or five percentage points to about two points.
"This certainly doesn't mean that this is a district that is an easy one for the Democrats to pick up, but it certainly means that the partisan alignment in that district is much closer in balance," Schultz said.
Were there no incumbent in the 2nd, Schultz said the race would be up for grabs. But Kline's five terms give him a significant advantage even though his district is less Republican, he said.
Kline also likely will have a financial advantage. He had more than $1 million in campaign funds on hand as of the end of last month.
- All Things Considered, 04/06/2012, 5:17 p.m.