The Shape of Things to Come

Races to watch in the metro area.

          The best example of the coattail effect will probably occur up in New Brighton, in District 52B, where IR incumbent Dick Pellow is facing off with DFLer Geri Evans for the fourth election cycle in a row. Boosted by the popularity of Clinton in 1992, Evans squeezed out a victory; two years later, riding Arne Carlson's landslide over John Marty in the governor's race, Pellow won the seat back. In a district almost evenly split in its party affiliation, Clinton's big lead over Dole could give Evans a slight edge this time around.

          You want a rebuttal to Minnesota Nice? Consider the campaign right next door in District 52A, encompassing areas of Fridley and Columbia Heights. For more than 20 years the seat was held by DFLer Wayne Simoneau; when he left to join the Carlson cabinet, IR candidate Skip Carlson won a special election to replace him. This year, Carlson is running ahead of Satveer Chaudhary, a big surprise considering that the district is regarded as solidly DFL, with DFL candidates for President and Congress piling up big margins there in recent years, in addition to Simoneau's perpetually strong showing. But Chaudhary is East Indian; unsolicited and off the record, representatives of both the Republican and Democratic parties told me that race is the single biggest factor here, and that District 52A is not ready to elect a person of color, especially against someone sporting a good Scandinavian name like Skip Carlson.

          Two of the most emotional issues in any campaign--abortion and crime--are at the forefront of the race in District 49B between IR incumbent Eldon Warkentin and DFLer Luanne Koskinen for the seat vacated by DFLer Joel Jacobs, who left to join the Public Utilities Commission. Located in Coon Rapids, this is the home district of DFLer Jackie Schwietz, head of the anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned For Life (MCCL). But Schwietz's handpicked candidate was defeated in the primary by Koskinen. Despite the presence of Schwietz and the large, pro-life Epiphany Church, feelings about abortion are almost evenly split in this district, and Koskinen is running just slightly ahead of the pro-life Warkentin, who may receive a boost from his recent endorsement by the Star Tribune.

          Yet another tight race in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis is the contest between IR incumbent Tom Hackbarth and DFLer Kathleen Sekhon in District 50A. Hackbarth's vociferous support for Governor's Carlson's voucher proposal is said to be the lightning rod issue in a race deemed too close to call. Out to the west metro in Hopkins, St. Louis Park, and Minnetonka, the race between DFLer Betty Folliard and IR candidate Rob Samuelsen for the District 44A seat vacated by Steve Kelley is also regarded as a dead heat, with crime and taxes the governing issues.

          One of the few places in the metro area where the DFL ethics problems are having a direct impact is in Bloomington, where District 40A incumbent DFLer Mark Mahon is facing a stiff challenge from IR candidate Brian Skon. Mahon is being hurt by his votes on the ethics committee not to discipline fellow party members. Skon has also benefited from his endorsement by the Star Tribune.

          Campaign officials in both major parties agree that the biggest difference between local races this year and those of the last presidential election in 1992 is the lack of influence by Ross Perot and other third-party candidates. A notable exception is in the inner-city District 62A, where DFL stalwart Lee Greenfield is facing a surprisingly feisty challenge from his left by Green Party candidate Cam Gordon. It seems that many activists from the progressive wing of the DFL are peeved that Greenfield helped to torpedo legislation by Sen. John Marty that sought to enable community co-ops to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on the same footing as big HMOs and state organizations and receive a better rate on prescription drugs. Greenfield introduced and passed a substitute bill that Gordon and his supporters claim short-circuited Marty's legislation.

          But Gordon, a 40-year-old author and former Montessori teacher, says his campaign isn't based on revenge so much as opening up the two-party system. Estimates of Gordon's strength depend on who in the DFL Party you talk to, but Gordon himself says, "We won't be embarrassed. It won't be 4 or 5 percent; it will be at least double digits. If we got 25 percent, that would surprise a lot of people, but I think that's doable." Asked if he's in it for the long haul, he demurs, "I don't believe in career politicians. Will I run again? I guess if I win I'll run again."

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