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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> House -- Minnesota -- 03

Surprise Winner In MN

In a move sure to add further confusion to one of Democrats' top House targets this year, local delegates of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party over the weekend backed lawyer and Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia over State Senator Terri Bonoff in the race to replace retiring Republican Jim Ramstad in Minnesota's Third Congressional District. Madia will face State Rep. Erik Paulsen, a highly-touted Republican recruit, in November.

State Party conventions choose nominees, though candidates not chosen by the party can also petition their way onto a primary ballot. Bonoff stood before the Third District convention this weekend and asked delegates to endorse rival Madia, saying she would not run in a primary and appealing for party unity, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

Ramstad is leaving the district, based around the northern, western and southern suburbs of Minneapolis, at the end of the year, and both parties were enthusiastic about their early front-runners, Paulsen and Bonoff. The Democratic state senator had raised an impressive $472,000 through the end of March, compared with just $166,000 through December for Madia, but conventions take wooing a committed group of supporters, and Madia was able to out-organize the veteran.

Many saw parallels in the race to that between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, with an older, experienced woman losing to the impressive rhetorical skills of a younger man. Party convention delegates were selected at precinct caucuses on Super Tuesday, in February, and Obama won the state overwhelmingly, likely giving a boost to more liberal precinct delegates who backed Madia.

Though national Democrats had recruited Bonoff for the race, their hopes are not completely dashed at her loss. In 2006, liberal anti-war activist Carol Shea Porter bested then-State House Democratic Leader Jim Craig in the Democratic primary to challenge Republican Rep. Jeb Bradley, in New Hampshire. Though the DCCC pulled out of the district, Shea Porter won in November anyway. Wisconsin Rep. Steve Kagen was not his party's number one choice to attack an open seat held by Republicans, but he, too, won a seat in Congress.

Madia will face a tough race against Paulsen, who ended 2007 having raised $389,000 and spending an incredibly frugal $25,000, to keep $363,000 in the bank. Madia told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he expects the race to cost about $3 million per candidate. No Democrat has represented the seat in more than two generations, but like many suburbs, voters there are getting more used to casting ballots for Democratic candidates. President Bush won by just three points in 2004, down from a four-point margin in 2000.

Bonoff Leads In Own Poll

Minnesota State Senator Terri Bonoff leads her closest rival by four points, a survey for her campaign shows, suggesting that Democrats have a strong chance to pick off a seat held by retiring Republican Jim Ramstad. The survey suggests the state's Third District, which surrounds Minneapolis on three sides, could be one of the closest contests of the year.

Conducted by Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the poll was taken 3/11-12 and surveyed 401 likely voters. The margin of error is +/- 4.9%. Bonoff, Democratic attorney Ashwin Madia and Republican opponent Erik Paulsen, a state representative, were surveyed.

General Election Matchup
Bonoff 44
Paulsen 40

Paulsen 43
Madia 40

Bonoff, the candidate of choice for Washington Democrats, purportedly leads Madia in a primary ballot test, though those numbers were not released. Bonoff had raised just over $300,000 at the end of December, with $230,000 left in the bank, compared with $166,000 raised and $124,000 in the bank for Madia. Paulsen, who has a clear shot at the GOP nod, has raised nearly $390,000 with $363,000 left in reserve.

Democrats competing in the Third District has to be a serious blow to GOP psyches in Minnesota, but it's a story that is being repeated around the country. The suburban district, which includes the Mall of America and Lake Minnetonka (after which Tonka toys are named), has been trending more Democratic of late after a century of being prime Republican territory. President Bush never took a victory larger than five points -- he beat John Kerry in the seat by just three.

Still, Bonoff's lead is not overwhelming, and her race won't be easy. Eager to increase gains made in the North Star State in 2006, when the party held a Senate seat and picked up a congressional seat, D.C. Democrats are likely to make Bonoff's victory a top priority and could spend heavily to do so. Paulsen, by all accounts a good candidate, will not be an easy foe to beat, especially in an area where many still reflexively reach for the GOP lever.

Another Term For Ramstad?

Minnesota Republican Jim Ramstad, whose retirement came as a surprise to most in Washington, may be considering another term, Roll Call and the Minnesota Campaign Report write. GOP leaders had reportedly leaned on the moderate Ramstad to stay for another term instead of opening up his swing district, on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, to a possible Democratic takeover.

NRCC chairman Tom Cole told Roll Call he thinks Ramstad is reconsidering his decision, a sentiment echoed by Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy, one of Ramstad's close friends on Capitol Hill. His backtrack, some speculated, could be thanks to Rep. Jim McCrery's own retirement.

Ramstad is the number four Republican on the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, while McCrery is the ranking Republican, giving Ramstad the opportunity to run for the top slot if he stays, or at the least advance in seniority. But, sources told Roll Call, Ramstad was rethinking his retirement well in advance of McCrery's decision. Ramstad cited the bill, dealing with mental health and addiction treatment parity, in his retirement statement, dedicating it to the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone.

Kennedy suggested another reason might be Ramstad's dedication to a mental health bill. If Democrats pass the measure, Ramstad may be willing to step aside, putting the seat in play. Both parties have highly-touted recruits already running for Ramstad's seat. Democratic State Senator Terri Bonoff and Republican State Representative Erik Paulsen have each raised significant amounts of money and spent time on the campaign trail in advance of Minnesota's September primary.

Calls to Ramstad's office seeking comment were not returned.

The Third District, which rings Minneapolis on three sides, includes Hennepin County suburbs from Lake Minnetonka to the Mall of America in Bloomington. Ramstad's moderate record -- he ranks near the middle of the House -- matches the district, which gave President Bush narrow 51% and 50% majorities in 2004 and 2000, respectively. Ramstad is popular in the area, and has never faced a serious challenge, winning with at least 64% in every one of his nine campaigns.

Ramstad To Retire

Congressman Jim Ramstad (R-MN 03) becomes the latest surprise retirement as he announced he would not run for another term next year. Ramstad's district, which voted narrowly for President Bush twice and picked Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar last year, surrounds the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs in Hennepin County.

The seat, as noted by an NRCC release, has been represented by a Republican for 45 years, though Democrats are likely to make a strong run given a newly open opportunity. Politico's Josh Kraushaar points to State Rep. Erik Paulsen, businessman Brian Sullivan and Governor Tim Pawlenty's former chief of staff David Gaither.

Intriguingly, Ramstad predicted a wave of retirements yet to come. "There are going to be a number of retirements, I assure you, in both parties," Ramstad said, according to Kraushaar.