In the Spotlight

News & Features

Kennedy opts for 6th District, and possible bout with Luther
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
March 25, 2002

Second District Congressman Mark Kennedy has announced he'll run for re-election in the new 6th District. A new political map released by the courts last week moved Kennedy out of the 2nd District and into the 6th. The freshman Republican faced pressure from state and national party officials to try to unseat Democratic Congressman Bill Luther.

"Many people told me the judges made a mistake by putting me in the 6th District," Kennedy said at a news conference to announce his decision. "I think the judges put me in the right district." Listen to his news conference.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

"This race is really going to be an instant replay of my last race. Once again, I face a nice guy that just doesn't happen to vote the way the people of the 6th District would want him to vote," according to Kennedy.

Kennedy says his campaign will point out the differences between his views and Congressman Bill Luther's stands on issues such as health care, defense spending, tax cuts and transportation funding.

Luther's chief of staff, Bob Decheine, says Luther isn't afraid of a race with Kennedy.

"Unlike when Congressman Kennedy challenged David Minge two years ago, Congressman Kennedy now has a record, and he has to defend that record," Decheine said.

Decheine says Kennedy is starting from scratch in the new 6th District, because its boundaries include just 14 percent of Kennedy's old district. Luther hangs onto about half of his voters in the new 6th.

"I suspect they'll be very, very close."

- Steve Frank, St. Cloud State University

Decheine says Kennedy is also starting with a financial disadvantage. He says Luther has about $1 million in the bank. Kennedy had about $400,000 on hand at the end of December.

The chair of the political science department at St. Cloud State University, Steve Frank, says both candidates are likely to be well-funded. He says a Kennedy-Luther match-up would be high stakes.

"It's going to be a fun race. To me, without seeing any real numbers so far, and I'd be skeptical of any polling that comes out now, because most people just aren't going to know either one of them here in the St. Cloud area, but I suspect they'll be very, very close," according to Frank.

Frank says money from the national parties and interest groups will likely flood into the race. Kennedy says it will be viewed as one of the top races in the country.

Mike Erlandson, chairman of the state DFL Party, said he expected plenty of resources on both sides and that the race would be won or lost on issues.

Kennedy's decision opens up his old 2nd District for John Kline, a fellow Republican who twice lost close elections to Luther.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

But before Kennedy can take on Luther, he may face a challenge from within his own party. Former U.S. Senator Rod Grams was considering a bid in the 6th District, but decided not to run. Another Republican, consultant David Reichow of Woodbury, announced plans to run in January, before the new lines were drawn. Reichow says he's still in the race.

"When you have monied candidates, and you have candidates such as Kennedy, for example, I think that may be a little more interested in - or maybe a little more beholden to - the party structure and leadership than being beholden to the voter, it just makes my reason for being in the campaign all the more strong," he said.

Reichow says he hasn't decided whether he'll abide by the party endorsement. Two Republican state senators who were considering entering the 6th District race - Dave Kleis of St. Cloud and Dan Stephens of Mora - now say they support Kennedy's bid.

Kennedy's decision also opens up his 2nd District seat for Republican John Kline of Lakeville, who twice lost close elections to Luther.

The new 2nd District encompasses six counties south of the Twin Cities. It's got 40 percent of the voters Kline courted during his back-to-back runs for the 6th District. He said he had already begun campaigning over the weekend, calling it "a terrific opportunity."

He said the new district is a better fit for him, but others think the same thing.

State Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, and House Speaker Bob Vanasek of New Prague, also a DFLer, are considering entering the race.

Some at the Capitol also are mentioning House Speaker Steve Sviggum as a potential candidate. Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said he hasn't "ruled it in or out."

In the First District, Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht of Rochester is seeking a fifth term. But he's likely to face a challenge, as well. Steve Andreasen of Rochester, a former National Security Council official, is the only declared DFL candidate. Todd Rasmussen, a banker and school board member in Winona, has an exploratory campaign.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

More from MPR
  • Audio: An analysis of the 2nd District race Rep. Chris Gerlach, R-Apple Valley and DFL Party Chair Mike Erlandson discuss the race. Morning Edition (3/26/02)
  • Campaign 2002: Mark Kennedy