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Minnesota redistricting limbo makes candidacies 'political crapshoot'

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Minnesota redistricting limbo makes candidacies 'political crapshoot'
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

ST. PAUL -- Lee Byberg plans to run against U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, his second straight time trying to defeat the longtime veteran congressman.


Tarryl Clark moved from St. Cloud to Duluth to take on first-term U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack.

Mike Parry is considering challenging U.S. Rep. Tim Walz. So is Steve Drazkowski.

Potential candidates for eight U.S. House, 134 state House and 67 state Senate districts are lining up to represent Minnesotans. But this year it is a slow-motion, and often quiet, effort.

In an era when campaigns begin early, too early for many voters, this election cycle is different because legislative and congressional wannabes will not know the area they would represent until Feb. 21. That is when a five-judge panel is due to release new legislative and congressional district boundaries.

"It is a little bit chaotic," state Republican Chairman Tony Sutton said.

Potential candidates are putting out feelers now and raising some money, but "they are making a little bit of a political gamble," he said. A new district could put them in competition with someone in the same party or in an unfavorable geographic area.

Jumping into a race always is a tough sacrifice, added Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. "When you combine that with redistricting, no one wants to pull the trigger."

Legislative candidates may have time to start a campaign after Feb. 21, but more time is needed for a successful congressional run, so some challengers already have begun despite the uncertainty.

Republican Byberg, of Willmar, for instance, "has raised pretty good money," Sutton said, to run against Detroit Lakes Democrat Peterson. While there is a strong likelihood Willmar and Detroit Lakes will remain in the same district, a plan Republican legislators offered but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton would have put Peterson and Cravaack in the same district, which Sutton said likely would have ended Byberg's campaign.

Former Democratic state Sen. Clark moved from St. Cloud to Duluth to challenge Cravaack, not knowing if Duluth even would remain in the North Branch resident's district.

Several other Democrats from central, north central and Northeastern Minnesota also are considering or actually running against Cravaack.

Cravaack sounds much like other incumbents, saying he is not thinking about new district lines.

"I would have to reintroduce myself to the new district," Cravaack said, adding that his campaign pitch would center on showing voters what he has done for his current district.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said an example of the situation candidates face comes in his efforts to recruit someone for a north-central Minnesota state Senate seat held by Republican John Carlson of Bemidji.

Three men serve north-central state Senate districts: Rod Skoe of Clearbrook and Tom Saxhaug of Grand Rapids, and Carlson. Bakk said there is a good chance those three districts will shrink to two.

"It is very difficult to look for a candidate in Bemidji," Bakk said, because of the uncertainty.

It is likely that new district boundaries will pair Carlson with Skoe or Saxhaug, Bakk added, making it unattractive for another Democrat.

The Senate DFL leader said several mayors have talked to him about running in various districts, but feel they must wait until they see the new legislative maps.

Where a potential candidate lives may determine how firm a decision he or she can make at this time.

Democrat Walz, from Mankato, is a target of Republicans.

State Sen. Parry, of Waseca, says he is thinking about running against Congressman Walz and is checking with potential donors and other supporters.

Sutton said that it probably would be pretty safe for Parry to get into the race because Mankato and Waseca are close and likely to be in the same district after Feb. 21.

However, for Rep. Drazkowski, from Mazeppa, launching a Walz challenge now is different.

"That is a little bit more of a political crapshoot," Sutton said, because Drazkowski lives in a county that borders the 2nd Congressional District, represented by fellow Republican John Kline. "He lives on a border county that could flip back and forth between the second and the first."

Party chairmen do much of the congressional candidate recruiting and are struggling this time around.

"It does hamper recruitment efforts because people are not so ready to commit themselves to a race," Martin said. "A lot of people right now are taking a wait-and-see attitude."

Political leaders in the midst of mapping out plans for the 2012 election are left with lots of holes.

"There is anxiety all around all political parties and candidates," Martin said.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the News Tribune.

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.