A competitive Republican primary in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is an increasing possibility, based on a growing roster of candidates who won’t vow to heed the endorsement of party delegates.
The latest example came earlier this month when former state Rep. Phil Krinkie announced his candidacy in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District. Bachmann announced in May she won’t seek re-election to the seat.
Of the four Republicans who’ve announced runs in the 6th District — Krinkie, 2010 gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer, state Sen. John Pederson and Anoka County board chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah — only Emmer has pledged to abide by the endorsement. Meanwhile, Pederson has called a GOP primary in the 6th District “very likely.”
The true dynamics of the 6th District race won’t be known until after an endorsement is made next spring. If a clear favorite emerges by then — most agree Emmer is the candidate to beat at this stage — other contenders may step aside.
But if the race comes to a competitive GOP primary, it would mark a dramatic shift for Minnesota Republicans. They traditionally have made their endorsements sacred and avoided primaries, even as DFLers frequently embraced them.
A review of past elections shows competitive GOP congressional primaries have been nonexistent in the St. Cloud area for at least the past 50 years. Even the closest primaries were decided by 2-to-1 margins.
The closest in recent memory came in 2000, when most of the St. Cloud area was in western Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District. Glen Menze topped Aleta Edin, 65.4 percent to 34.6 percent, for the GOP nomination that year. The DFL nominee, Rep. Collin Peterson, went on to defeat Menze in the general election.
Eric Ostermeier, who pens the Smart Politics blog for the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, could find just two other instances of GOP congressional primaries in the St. Cloud area in the past 50 years that were anywhere near competitive.
One came in 1994, when former state Rep. Bernie Omann defeated Phyllis Onsgard, 65.6 percent percent to 34.4 percent, for the GOP nomination against Peterson. Before that, you have to go back to 1962, when the St. Cloud area was in the 6th District and Robert Odegard won the GOP primary with 63.7 percent of the vote.
Some Minnesota Republican activists say the break from precedent could be beneficial. Citing the failure of Minnesota GOP-endorsed candidates in recent elections, they say picking nominees by primaries could mean candidates who fare better in general elections.
Even some Republican activists who aren’t enthusiastic about primaries, such as Lawrence Johnson, vice chair of the Benton County Republicans, acknowledge it could happen in the 6th District in 2014.
Johnson says if Republican candidates won’t agree to abide by the party endorsement, perhaps it should be scrapped altogether. He says a competitive primary could cause GOP candidates to waste resources fighting each other before a general election.
“I think it could hurt the party’s chances in the long run,” Johnson said.
Among DFLers, only lead-abatement activist Judy Adams has announced a run in the 6th District. Sartell Mayor Joe Perske says he’s considering one.