Big race heating up in 6th district

National party leaders eye the Twin Cities district as a House seat that’s up for grabs.

by Courtney Blanchard

The outcome of a political fight in the Twin Cities’ suburbs could decide which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives after the November election.

Students from Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, which spans the north metro from the Wisconsin border to St. Cloud, can vote to choose the successor to Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy, who decided to run for the U.S. Senate.

Republican State Sen. Michele Bachmann, the Independence Party’s John Binkowski and Patty Wetterling, the DFL candidate, are vying for the post.

Steve Frank, a St. Cloud State University political science professor, said the toss-up race has national significance. A recent Reuters/Zogby poll has shown Bachmann and Wetterling in a statistical dead heat, despite the district’s tendency to vote for Republicans.

“(The district) is often portrayed as very Republican, as Catholic and anti-abortion. That is misleading,” Frank said, though he said the district is still slightly conservative.

From local to national

This year, national issues are taking over.

After U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., resigned over inappropriate messages allegedly sent to teenage congressional pages, Wetterling demanded an investigation to examine Foley’s conduct and explore a possible cover-up by House leadership.

Wetterling voiced her demands in an advertisement that garnered national attention and appeared on several national media outlets. She’ll also deliver the Democratic response to President George W. Bush’s weekly radio address Saturday.

Bachmann, too, is busy juggling interviews. She was followed by several international news outlets last week and had to work to squeeze in a WCCO interview after ABC News showed up Thursday, Bachmann said.

“We have known for a long time that this is one of the top-five races in the country,” she said.

The issues

As a former federal tax lawyer, Bachmann said one of her top priorities is keeping the Bush tax cuts permanent and cutting taxes for people across the board.

Bachmann also said she believes the United States shouldn’t pull troops out of Iraq immediately.

“I want to make sure we win this war on terror,” she said. “And do it as decisively and as quickly as possible.”

If elected, Bachmann said, she would try to get a seat on the transportation committee to funnel money toward local roadways.

She praised the University’s pioneering research and said it’s important for the government to commit to higher education.

“We want to make sure that it’s stable, strong and viable,” she said.

Wetterling said those goals aren’t possible when student debt is increasing. She said she’d recommend consolidating tax breaks for students to give everyone a standard college deduction.

Besides education, some of the biggest issues in this race are those facing the middle class, Wetterling said.

“I believe that the middle class is being squeezed,” she said.

There also is a need to

make improvements in transportation and to develop the Northstar light-rail line from Minneapolis to St. Cloud, Wetterling said.

She also said every American must have health care, especially children. As a well-known children’s rights advocate, Wetterling said, her experience pushing for legislation in Washington would benefit her in Congress.

“We need to get back to being a country that cares for our people,” she said.

Unlike his opponents, reporters might not swamp Independence Party candidate John Binkowski, but he said his clear plan to withdraw troops from Iraq and his ability to relate to younger voters work to his advantage.

“Our generation has horrible representation,” said Binkowski. “I can identify with the issues that young people face.”

As an Independence Party member, Binkowski said, he is fiscally conservative and socially progressive. If elected, he would press energy reform and reduction of the deficit, he said.

Student volunteers

Adult education master’s student Christina Magnuson, a former Daily employee, said she chose to work on Wetterling’s campaign even though she lives just across the river from the district.

Magnuson, who lives in Champlin, said Wetterling’s Anoka office is down the street from her old middle school.

“I’m familiar with the area,” she said. “And this race is so close. There’s a lot at stake.”

Magnuson said she agrees with Wetterling on the issues and calls Bachmann “too extreme.”

College Republicans president Bethany Dorobiala said she feels strongly about Bachmann’s platform. A volunteer on Bachmann’s campaign, Dorobiala said the state senator has chalked up plenty of experience.

A native of Woodbury – a suburb in the east metro slice of the district – Dorobiala said she thinks it’s more important to vote in her home district because the outcome will affect her parents.

Dorobiala said she’s working with the College Republicans to provide as many voters from the 1st and 6th districts with absentee ballots as they can, because those races could determine control of the House.

“I think Michele’s race is going to determine whether we have a Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi (D-Calif.)” she said.

Frank said that although the race is tight, “Bachmann is a better campaigner, she’s more experienced. Ö But (Wetterling) may win in spite of that, in terms of the nationalization of the issues.”