McCollum first Minnesota congresswoman in 66 years

Patrick Hayes

For the first time in 66 years, Minnesota will send a woman to the U.S. Congress, as state Rep. Betty McCollum, DFL-North St. Paul, defeated her opponents with 52 percent of the Fourth Congressional District votes.
State Sen. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, received 26.06 percent, while Independence Party candidate Tom Foley had 21.3 percent.
“Tonight is about you and your families and it’s about my family,” McCollum said to the crowd at the Democratic headquarters in downtown St. Paul.
“I want to thank you for electing me Minnesota’s newest member of Congress,” she said.
The victory was expected. A poll conducted in late October had McCollum at 43 percent to Runbeck’s 29 percent. Tom Foley was predicted to finish with 18 percent of the vote.
But of the 435 national congressional districts, Minnesota’s Fourth Congressional District was one of only a handful getting media attention.
The St. Paul-area seat opened in February when 22-year veteran Rep. Bruce Vento announced his retirement after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He died from the disease in mid-October.
With Vento’s retirement, the seat became one of 10 that could decide which party controls the House. DFLers have had a strong hold on Vento’s seat for the past 42 years.
McCollum’s victory further reinforced the Democratic position in the St. Paul area.
“I think I won because I ran a positive campaign focusing on the issues of the fourth district,” McCollum said.
McCollum ran a nine month campaign focusing on health care reform, environmental protection, and better Medicare and prescription drug coverage.
But despite the cheers and screams of support during her victory speech, McCollum paused to reflect on the death of Vento.
“We lost a friend, a teacher during this campaign,” McCollum said. “Bruce Vento was a man of honor and dignity, and I am humbled to succeed him in Congress,” she added.
McCollum was elected to the state House in 1992. As a representative, she served on both the Environmental Policy committee and Health and Human Services Policy committee.
Before becoming state representative, McCollum served as a north St. Paul council member from 1986 to 1992.
“In Congress, my leadership will reflect our shared values, respecting our diversity, ensuring that all of our children and future generations are always considered in every decision made,” McCollum said.
“I will fight for you in Washington for affordable housing, quality health care, for excellent education, for social security, Medicare and a drug prescription plan that covers seniors and people of disabilities,” she added.
Second-runner up concedes
Speaking from the Republican campaign headquarters in St. Paul earlier in the night, Runbeck said she was optimistic and thought the race could go either direction.
“It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of activity,” she said. “All my vibes were good.”
Later, upon hearing that McCollum won the race, Runbeck became more cynical.
“Unfortunately, it’s all about money,” Runbeck said, referring to McCollum’s ability to campaign with more money from outside state funding.
Runbeck also expressed dismay at McCollum’s negative political campaigning during the latter part of the race.
“It’s been a fabulous race up until three weeks ago,” she said. “The last three weeks have been a disaster because I have been the subject of numerous negative attack ads.”
The business and advertising professional was elected to the state House in 1989. Three years later, she won a seat in the state Senate and served on the commerce, taxes and economic development committees.
Runbeck campaigned heavily for privatizing Social Security and using the budget surplus for tax relief.
Volunteers said while the loss is obviously disappointing, the campaign was fought long and hard.
Nineteen-year-old Peter Aurich, the field director in Runbeck’s campaign, said he was upset that Runbeck lost the race.
“I thought she’d do a good job at the national level,” Aurich said. “We worked hard. It’s surprising not as many Democrats went for Foley.”
If they had, votes would have been taken away from McCollum giving Runbeck a better chance at a victory.
A history major at the University, Aurich spent about 60 to 70 hours a week working on the campaign.
Aurich said he was most interested in her plan to cut taxes and give the surplus money back to the people.
A victory in a loss
Foley, a former Ramsey County attorney who switched from the DFL party to the Independent Party earlier this year, said he was hoping to become the second Independent Party official elected following Gov. Jesse Ventura.
“I think what we’ve done is start a good third party independent movement,” Foley said. “We’ll gear up for making sure that other candidates of independent parties are viable third parties.”
Foley said he saw millions of dollars spent by the Republican and Democratic national parties. That, along with an abundance of negative campaigning, were the major factors in the third place showing, he added.
Foley remained optimistic of his political future, promising “to remain in the political process.”
Winning over 5 percent of the votes enabled the Independence Party to retain official Federal Election Commission status.