Freshman Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) has no shortage of Republicans who would like to unseat him next year, but the former high school teacher says he doesn’t worry much about them.
Four Republicans already have started campaigns. The National Republican Congressional Committee considers Walz one of its top targets and has been whacking him every chance it gets. Radio ads tying him to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), paid for by the NRCC, will run all week in his Rochester-based 1st district.
Nonetheless, Walz, who the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not get behind until very late last year, is taking the GOP attention in stride.
“The Congressional side is really about connecting back home,” Walz said last week. “When you truly come from the grass roots, like I did, you don’t worry about the political side as much.”
Walz was a long-shot candidate, but the former National Guardsman campaigned relentlessly and his personal style helped him earn a surprising 53 percent to 47 percent victory over then-Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) last year.
Walz said his views mirror that of his district’s on everything from the Iraq War to gas prices to immigration.
Republicans will “have a hard time painting me as out-of-touch” with the district, Walz said.
He wants to end U.S. involvement in Iraq but voted for the latest war spending bill because he came to realize that President Bush is “reckless” and “absolutely willing to play brinkmanship” until Democrats gave in to his demand for additional funds without strings attached, which they did last week.
Walz, who retired from the Army National Guard as a command sergeant major, said that because Bush was never going to blink, denying funds in the hope of forcing his hand only would have harmed the troops.
Walz served in Italy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and is the highest-ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress, according to his biography.
His military background and frank manner of talking have drawn a lot of media attention.
While Walz has managed to stand out more than the average freshman House Member, he’s still a favorite GOP target.
Two legislators, state Sen. Dick Day and state Rep. Randy Demmer, are seeking the Republican nomination along with Brian Davis, a doctor, and Mark Meyer, a local school board member.
“There’s a lot of pent-up ambition in Minnesota 1,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said. “You had a Republican Member of Congress who held the seat for quite some time and now there are a lot of locally elected individuals who believe this is their opportunity to run and win.”
Day reported having about $11,000 in the bank as of March 31. Meyer’s exploratory committee saved more than $5,600. Demmer and Meyer did not file Federal Election Commission reports at the end of the first fundraising quarter.
Demmer joined the race late enough in the quarter that he did not have to file.
Walz began April with roughly $160,000 in his war chest. He acknowledged that the DCCC, which included him in its “Frontline” program for vulnerable Members, would like him to kick his fundraising into higher gear.
He spent less than $1.3 million last year compared with Gutknecht’s $1.7 million. His target this time is to raise $2 million.
Walz’s re-election race could turn out to be a situation where, on paper, the district looks competitive but ultimately proves not to be, said Barry Casselman, a Minnesota-based national political columnist.
“Walz is the favorite to beat for re-election and has been a highly visible first-term Congressman with his only political mistake, in my opinion, being his turning back the invitation of the Blue Dog Democrats to be one of them,” Casselman said.
Walz did not join the Blue Dog Caucus, a group of more conservative Democrats.
“So far there’s been nothing remarkable about the Republican field,” Casselman said.
Someone could come along and prove formidable but, at this early date, that is not the case, Casselman added.
Also up in the air is how the Republican nominee will be selected.
In Minnesota, both major parties endorse a candidate through a caucus system. That person then gets the party’s financial and logistical support, but the process is nonbinding. Candidates can choose to press ahead and challenge the endorsed candidate in the September primaries.
The Republican contenders in the 1st district have yet to say what approach they will take.
“It would certainly be an unconventional move for anyone to ignore or attempt to bypass that process,” Spain said.
Walz firmly believes that Congressional Democrats have to make good on their promises to end the “culture of corruption” they said festered on Capitol Hill under Republican rule or they will face reprisals from the voters.
He also said Democrats have to show they can tackle tough issues such as immigration.
“I’m convinced we have to move a bill,” Walz said. “Republicans will use it against us if we don’t get one.”
Walz said the farmers and city-dwellers in the 1st district realize that illegal immigrants working in their fields and obeying the law need some way to become citizens. They also understand that immigrant labor is vital to the economy.
Last year, GOP Reps. Steve King (Iowa) and Tom Tancredo (Colo.) swung through “the two most Republican counties” in the 1st district during the campaign. They accused Walz of supporting “amnesty” for illegal immigrants and not taking a hard enough stance on border security.
“I won those counties,” Walz said. “When I see [King] on the House floor, I thank him.”