All eyes will be on Minnesota in 2016 after a surprise announcement of Republican Rep. John Kline's departure from Congress.
His open seat could mean an opportunity for the Democratic Party.
Kline, who is House Education and the Workforce Committee chairman, is calling it quits after 13 years in Minnesota's Second District. His is now one of only a handful of U.S. House districts in 2016 that could flip from Republican to Democrat.
With two well-connected women vying for the Democratic nomination, talk has begun to mount among Republicans of a movement to draft Mary Pawlenty, attorney and former district judge and wife of former two-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
“Republicans went from a fairly safe Second District before redistricting in 2011 to some very competitive turf since,” former state GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge told me shortly after Kline’s announcement. “I’m afraid that in an open situation, Democrats have a good chance of a pickup if Republicans don’t nominate a competent conservative.”
Likely to square off for the Democratic nomination are ophthalmologist Mary Lawrence, who is married to a wealthy venture capitalist, and Angie Craig, an executive with St. Jude Medical.
Lawrence, who comes from a family of doctors, now lives with her husband and two children in Minneapolis (which is outside the district) but are presently moving to the Second District.
Craig, who is raising four sons with same-sex partner Cheryl Greene, is already actively running and has the blessings of the United Steelworkers.
Both Lawrence and Craig are considered from the far left of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (or DFL, as the Democratic Party is known in Minnesota).
In contrast, Mary Pawlenty’s views on most issues are unknown because of her service on the bench banned her from political activity. Husband Tim, who briefly sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, is considered moderate-to-conservative.
“The consultants here would love it if she ran,” John Augustine, president of the conservative Legislative Evaluation Assembly (LEA) of Minnesota, told me. “She is sharp and politically savvy, has great name recognition, has been on the ballot before as a judge, and would have plenty of connections for fundraising. She also could not be defined by a record of past votes, unlike some other possibilities.”
Augustine and many state GOP activists agree that some of the other seven Republicans now mentioned for Congress would drop out of the race if the former first lady decides to run.
The problem with any of the seven running, GOP sources told me, is that most or all would have difficulty raising money.
Former state Rep. Kurt Bills, a Ron and Rand Paul libertarian Republican, had major problems with fundraising when he carried the GOP banner against Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar in 2012. The same was true of conservative talk-show host and state Sen. Dave Thompson when he ran for governor last year.
State Rep. Steve Drazkowski is not as well-known and has not had access to major dollars in past campaigns. He has the most conservative score with the LEA of any possible House candidate.
Former State Rep. Ted Daley also compiled a conservative record but lost his seat last year due to unfavorable redistricting. Also mentioned are Dakota County Commissioners Mary Liz Holberg and Chris Gerlach, who compiled conservative records when they were in the legislature.
"I hope people don't defer to the operatives advising us that there has to be someone of a more moderate persuasion to win in a swing district,” the LEA’s Augustine said.“Is that what Obama and [Democratic Sen. Al] Franken were when they carried it? On the contrary, a strong candidate and campaign is what will be needed to mobilize grass-roots volunteer efforts."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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