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Minnesota Politicians Wait for Kline, Peterson Exits to Ascend

The hopes of Gopher State congressional aspirants lie in the potential departures of two senior members in the delegation in the next few cycles — an uncertain situation at best.

Otherwise, there’s not much excitement or opportunity on the horizon in Minnesota, a state recently known for its political quirks and congressional upheaval.

In the 2000s, state politics offered Sen. Al Franken’s dramatic recount, Rep. Michele Bachmann’s ascension to national prominence and professional-wrestler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura.

But in the past couple of years, the political landscape in Minnesota has settled down. This cycle, Franken is on track to coast to re-election after Sen. Amy Klobuchar, another Democrat, trounced her opponent last year. On the House side, entrenched members boast brands that transcend the competitive natures of their recently redrawn districts.

Accordingly, benchwarmers in both parties are waiting until either Democratic Rep. Collin C. Peterson or Republican Rep. John Kline retire, according to a number of strategists in the state.

If Peterson, 69, decides to retire — something he has openly mulled — the 7th District would favor a Republican candidate.

“There are a cluster of candidates who only would run if Peterson doesn’t,” one Republican operative said of the GOP bench. “They don’t want to put their neck out there.”

At least seven Republicans would take a serious look at running in the district, which spans from the Canadian border through the western third of the state and south past the Twin Cities. They are:

• Former state Rep. Marty Seifert, who served as minority leader of the state House from 2007 until 2009. Operatives said Seifert could clear a potentially crowded primary field if he chose to run.

• Businessman Scott Van Binsbergen, a former congressional aide who told CQ Roll Call in July that he was weighing a bid against Peterson this cycle but has not yet made a decision.

• State Sen. Torrey Westrom, the first legally blind person elected to the Minnesota Legislature.

• State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, who served as sheriff of Douglas County before being elected to the state legislature.

• State Rep. Dan Fabian, an educator and cross-country coach at a Minnesota high school.

• State Rep. Mary Franson, who worked in child care services before being elected to the state House in 2011.

• Former state Rep. Morrie Lanning, a longtime state legislator and former administrator at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.

On the Democratic side, operatives said the party would have to nominate a more conservative candidate to compete. This district voted for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney by a 10-point margin in 2012.

Local operatives mentioned state Rep. Paul Marquart as a possible candidate.

Should Kline, 66, ever retire from the 2nd District, a competitive and crowded race would ensue. After six terms, Kline is the longest-serving GOP member in the Minnesota delegation.

Republicans mentioned former state Rep. Kurt Bills, who lost by a large margin to Klobuchar in 2012, as a potential candidate. They also mentioned Dakota County Commissioner Chris Gerlach, state Reps. Pat Garofalo and Kelby Woodard, and Brad Rixmann, the founder and CEO of Pawn America and a major donor to Kline’s campaign.

Democrats argue that Kline is vulnerable this cycle. They say they plan to spend resources in his district to help one of their recruits, former state Rep. Mike Obermueller. The Democrat lost to Kline in 2012 by a 10-point margin.

If Obermueller fails this cycle, Democratic consultants say they will have candidates who will want to challenge Kline in future cycles. Those potential candidates include state Rep. Joe Atkins, Eagan Mayor Mike MaGuire, Lakeville Mayor Mike Little and freshman state Rep. Laurie Halverson.

Statewide opportunities are even more rare than competitive House races in upcoming cycles. Several Republicans have entered the race to challenge Franken, but most local operatives don’t believe any of them can beat him.

Klobuchar will not stand for re-election again until 2018. But she has been mentioned for numerous high-level positions, including attorney general, a Supreme Court slot and national office.

Operatives in the state say if Klobuchar leaves her Senate seat, there are several contenders ready to run for it: GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen, Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, Minnesota’s first female Attorney General Lorie Swanson, a Democrat, and outgoing Democratic Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Farm Team is a weekly state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.

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