Minnesota's fourth congressional district is staying in Democratic hands with Betty McCollum's victory over Republican Linda Runbeck and the Independence Party's Tom Foley. McCollum is only the second woman in state history to be elected to Congress and the first in more than 40 years.
DURING BRUCE VENTO'S 12 straight victories in fourth district congressional races, it seemed as if Minnesota's Democrats had the district locked up. But Vento's untimely death of lung cancer and the growing suburbanization of the district, which includes Ramsey and northern Dakota counties, made the three way race for this year's open seat less predictable. So DFLers reveled in Betty McCollum's victory, giving the outgoing state representative from North Saint Paul hugs and well wishes late into the night.
McCollum says the key to her victory was talking and listening to the district's residents.
"It was listening to what families are concerned about: health care; they're very concerned about what's going on with health care, whether it's prescription drugs or making sure that children have access to health care; it was important to people that someone was going to fight hard for a cleaner environment and public and open space; and then the economy, making sure that we lived up to our responsibility to keeping Social Security secure and then paying off the debt so we don't burden our children. Our campaign reflected that and that's why we were successful," McCollum said.
McCollum's principal rivals say, in addition to talking and listening, spending was key to the campaign. Republican State Sen. Linda Runbeck says she was outspent by a ratio of 2-1, and lacked the resources to counter some of the ads the Democratic Party ran for McCollum.
"It was the only race in the state that they thought was going to be competitive," Runbeck said. "So right from the get-go they always focused on this race. But don't forget the additional outside money from both coasts, EMILY's list, the League of Conservation Voters, and so on."
Former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley received about 20 percent of the votes cast. While upbeat about his showing as a third-party candidate, he, too, cited spending as a key to the race.
"It's important for the people to see that there is a choice, there is a difference, that there is a new way of doing things and a new feeling and spirit about how things should be done and it starts with campaign finance reform," he told supporters at a Saint Paul restaurant.
Vento held the fourth district seat for nearly 24 years, which is not uncommon on Capitol Hill. There are differing views on whether McCollum is now poised for a similarly lengthy tenure.
Minnesota Republican Party chairman Ron Eibensteiner doubts this year's result will be long-lived.
"There's something called reapportionment coming up in 2002. And the congressional boundaries will be redrawn. So who knows what the fourth district will look like two years from now; it could change dramatically," Eibensteiner said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone thinks there's a good chance that McCollum and the fourth district could be settling into a long-term relationship.
"The thing that I think is most interesting about her is that she's very modest," Wellstone says. "She's just going to stay very close to people here. She'll be a lot like Bruce in that respect. I think she feels eternally grateful to people for giving her this chance in the fourth district and I think people will really love her."
McCollum, a former teacher and retail manager, is planning several post-election day appearances around the district, including a couple of stops at schools.
William Wilcoxen covers Saint Paul for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.