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Luther opts for 2nd District
By Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio
May 13, 2002

Sixth District Democratic Congressman Bill Luther says he will move into the 2nd Congressional District to avoid running against a Republican incumbent. Luther has been contemplating whether to retire, run against GOP Congressman Mark Kennedy or move into the 2nd District to face former Marine John Kline. His decision to move to the 2nd sets up his third contest against Kline. Luther says the district best fits his political style. But Republicans say Luther will have more difficulty winning in a more conservative district.

Democratic Rep. Bill Luther of Minnesota said Monday he will switch districts this fall, moving into the 2nd District to avoid a run against a well-financed GOP incumbent in his old 6th District. Listen to his announcement.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

The court-ordered redistricting panel dismantled Congressman Bill Luther's old 6th District in March, putting pieces of it into five other districts. The panel also placed Luther and Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy in the 6th, pitting two incumbents against each other.

Kennedy said he'd run against Luther. Luther's campaign staffers said at the time that they weren't afraid of facing the freshman congressman, but said they wanted to leave their options open.

Luther said he contemplated retirement, running in the 6th or running against a familiar opponent in the 2nd District. Luther says he'll run in the 2nd, which includes most of the southern Twin Cities suburbs.

"That area is undergoing such a huge surge in population and economic growth and is so diverse in terms of suburban, small town and rural areas. It really is a microcosm of the entire state," Luther said.

Luther says he seriously contemplated retirement, especially since his wife, former state representative Darlene Luther, passed away this year. But he says his family and Democrats in Washington pushed him to run.

Luther says he will begin house hunting and will prepare to open a campaign headquarters in the new district. He says the new district has about 39 percent of the voters from Luther's old district, which will help him with name recognition.

"As a member of Congress you do represent the particular district that you're elected from. But I and many other people members in Congress feel very strongly that you simplY must reflect the rest of the nation as a whole as you make decisions on how to vote or what legislation to support," he said.

Republicans say voters in the new 2nd District may know Luther, but prefer Kline, who ran unsuccessfully against Luther in 1998 and 2000. Kline's home was redistricted into the 2nd District. Kline says voters in the new 2nd District lean Republican. He says he's looking forward to campaigning against Luther's record, specifically on military defense and the environment.

"Bill's a little bit out of touch with this district," Kline said. "He's got a voting record he has to defend, including his most recent vote on what to do with nuclear waste that's piling up on the Mississippi River right here in the 2nd District. He had a chance to move it out to Yucca Mountain and passed on that."

The Republican Party of Minnesota's Bill Walsh was also quick to criticize Luther's decision. He said the party will paint Luther as a politician who will move in order to get elected.

"Congressman Kennedy obviously scared him away. Scared him from the 6th down to the 2nd. We feel confident that we could win both seats," Walsh says. "The 2nd is a very Republican seat. It's John Kline's base. He won Dakota County, he lives in Dakota County."

Luther and Kline have been engaged in close contests that have sometimes turned nasty. Experts say it will be expensive since Republicans have only an 11-seat majority in the House.

"I think this would rank as the top-20 races in the nation," says Amy Walter, an editor with the non-partisan Cook Political Report. She says the contest could cost up to $10 million if the parties and special-interest groups decide to get involved. Luther has reported raising over $1 million on March 31. Kline says he raised about $100,000 to date.

Walter says voters in the 2nd District will "get to know" the two candidates very well before the November election.

"You should plan on seeing your mailbox full with political materials. The airwaves filled with political ads. There probably will be nowhere to turn come October that you will not find a reference to this race in some way, shape or form," according to Walter.

Officials with the Minnesota DFL Party say former Oak Park Heights City Council member Janet Robert is interested in seeking the 6th District endorsement and facing Congressman Kennedy in November.

More from MPR
  • Campaign 2002: Bill Luther
  • Campaign 2002: John Kline