Voters in Minnesota's sixth congressional district will choose between two familiar candidates. Democratic incumbent Congressman Bill Luther and Republican challenger John Kline squared off in 1998 in a race that was decided by four percent of the vote. For this year's rematch, Kline has raised nearly $1 million to help him win the seat.
THE 6TH DISTRICT
Learn more about the district and the candidates by browsing our special 6th districtsection of the Campaign 2000 site.
WHEN POLITICIANS TALK ABOUT SUBURBAN SWING DISTRICTS, they're talking about places like Minnesota's sixth. The sprawling district forms a crescent shape around the Twin Cities, encompassing cities to the east like Stillwater and stretching to Anoka in the north metro, and Eagan in the south. The district has been growing in part because of young married couples who are moving from Minneapolis and Saint Paul to buy homes. Those newer transplants have Republican candidate John Kline believing he can win the district.
"This is the fastest-growing district in the state by far, we are 130,000 people larger than the other districts, that's all growth in the last census," Kline points out. "It's growing at an escalating pace, so I can literally win on November 7th by not getting one single voter who voted for Bill Luther to change his vote."
Kline says federal taxes are too high. He says Congressman Bill Luther is a "tax-and-spend liberal, who believes in big government." Luther, on the other hand, says he's a people's champion, who's stood up against the pharmaceutical and tobacco lobbies.
Luther's populist theme may sound like presidential candidate Al Gore, but it's also designed to echo Gov. Jesse Ventura. In 1998, Ventura was elected governor and Luther got the scare of his life from Kline, a relatively unknown retired Marine with little money. The Republicans took notice and encouraged Kline to run again, and helped with fundraising appearances with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
On the issues, there's a clear difference between the candidates. Kline is focusing on tax cuts and education, while Luther's priorities are fixing Social Security and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. Luther says too many seniors on Medicare can't afford the rising cost of prescription drugs.
"We have to get government involvement in the pricing structure, because the private sector in completely unfairly pricing these drugs today," Luther says. "They are giving discounts to people in other countries, and letting the poor people who's not insured pay the highest prices."
Kline says he wants to help lower-income seniors, but says first the entire Medicare system needs to be fixed.
Since so many younger families are moving into the district, both candidates are also stressing education. Luther says the federal government needs to take the lead by setting standards for local schools. That makes Kline bristle. He says instead of creating one policy for all 50 states, the federal government should give block grants to the states and leave decisions to local leaders.
"They don't know the kids here in Minnesota, they don't know the parents, they don't what the needs are here. I think we're better suited here to make most of those decisions. The decisions on how to spend it should be made here and not in Washington," says Kline.
Kline's also targeting young couples when it comes to Social Security. He says the government should allow younger workers to invest two percent of their Social Security payroll taxes in the stock market. Luther says that's a risky plan that could be an administrative nightmare for the government. He supports a measure that provides tax credits for investment in retirement accounts.
Since the 6th district is so large, both Luther and Kline have to do more than press the flesh. They need to raise money - lots of it - to run television and radio advertisements. Luther has $1.9 million to spend on the campaign. Kline has raised more than $900,000.
Carleton College Political Science Professor Steven Schier says this race will be one of the more interesting in the state. He says Kline will be a competitive opponent but expects Luther to win again.
"Once an incumbent gets the shock of his life, you get new resources, new attention paid to the district," Schier says. "'Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me,' and he's not about to get fooled twice by this."
Schier admits the demographics of the district will help Republican candidates in the future, but doesn't think it will help Kline this year. Kline says he would have won in '98 if he had the money and name recognition. There is a third-party candidate on the ballot. Ralph Hubbard of Cottage Grove is the Constitution Party candidate in the sixth district.