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Profile: The 2nd District Race
By Mark Steil
October 23, 2000
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Minnesota second district congressman, Democrat David Minge, has successfully balanced fiscal conservatism and social liberalism through four terms representing the state's southwest quarter. But this year's Republican challenger, Mark Kennedy, says Minge hasn't accomplished anything, and predicts he can beat the Montevideo Democrat.
Learn more about Minnesota's 2nd district, and the candidates running for office, on Campaign 2000'sspecial section on the race.

MARK KENNEDY LIKES CHALLENGES, and he's picked a big one for his first run at public office. As he works the streets of St. Peter, Kennedy has a ready laugh line for each person he meets.

Kennedy started campaigning over a year ago in the sprawling district stretching from the western fringe of the Twin Cities to the South Dakota border. It's mostly small towns and farms - Willmar is the largest city at just under 20,000 people. Kennedy has spent a lot of time on the road, introducing himself to voters and hammering Minge.

"My opponent, in his eight years in Congress, has not sponsored one bill significant enough to require a co-sponsor that's become law. I'm used to getting things done, I would suggest that my opponent has not been as effective," says Kennedy.

Speaking to a class at Gustavus Adolphus College, Kennedy says his business background makes him a good fit for a district struggling over its economic future; the agricultural sector is in a recession, main-street businesses fight to stay alive in a world dominated by big-box stores and small towns are looking for job-producing companies.

Kennedy has spent 20 years in business, working for companies like Pillsbury and the retailer Shopco.

Minge is not happy with Kennedy's jabs, especially the one about him being ineffective. Minge says he's more concerned with producing sound federal policy than whether his name is on the final product.

"Quite often we work together and it's not a question of whose name is there first, it's a question of what is the team and did the team get this effort done," says Minge.

Minge belongs to a group of conservative Democrats dubbed the "blue dogs," and he says that group has been a major force in producing a balanced federal budget.

Minge's message of streamlining federal government has played well in a district where both Democrats and Republicans are generally more conservative than other parts of the state.

But the talk of a limited federal role ends when the issue is agriculture. Both the Republican Kennedy and Democrat Minge support spending billions of dollars in farm relief. The money has helped offset the generally low grain and livestock prices recently which have reduced farm income.

Kennedy says the U.S. should work to expand farm exports to help boost prices at home. Minge has introduced legislation which would allow farmers to set aside land in exchange for more favorable federal crop loans.

Another issue the two have tangled over is the so called "marriage penalty tax." Kennedy says he will vote to eliminate the penalty and charges Minge voted against those efforts. Minge says he also supports change, but says he couldn't vote for a Republican plan which he saw as wasteful.

"We had an effort by the Republican leadership to spend about $290 billion. That's probably about twice as much as needs to be spent. They were giving tax relief to people that have no marriage tax penalty," he says.

Several third-party candidates are also on the second district ballot. Constitution Party hopeful Dennis Burda of Buffalo, Libertarian candidate Ron Helwig of Shakopee and probably the best known, Independence Party nominee Gerald Brekke of St. Peter.

Brekke was the sacrificial Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 1976 against Hubert Humphrey, receiving 25 percent of the vote. He also ran for secretary of state in 1978, losing to Joan Growe. Brekke's first political move this year was to shore up his home base. He says his wife and daughter were "madder than hell" at him for running. He says they now support him and the change he offers.

"Nobody's going to come over and tell me how to vote," Brekke says. "I'm going to vote my conscience. He can't do that. That's one of his penalties for being a Democrat."

Brekke says he'll spend a few thousand dollars on his campaign. The two major party candidates could spend up to $1 million each.