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Challengers press incumbent for District 9A House seat
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Lauri Winterfeldt-Shanks says informal door to door polling by her volunteers shows a lot of undecided voters. (MPR Photo/Bob Reha)
The curse and blessing of any incumbent is a legislative record. Morrie Lanning knows that all too well. He's the Republican state representative for District 9A, which includes the city of Moorhead and the northern half of Clay County. Lanning is well known in Moorhead. He was mayor for 20 years. But his challengers say he's vulnerable, because he's not representing Moorhead's interest.

Moorhead, Minn. — Jim Danielson says some voters are unhappy in Moorhead. He's a professor of political science at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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Image Jim Danielson

Danielson says the perception is Morrie Lanning spends too much time trying to please House Republican leaders and not enough time taking care of his district.

"And I think it's a factor, that has hurt him, in terms of people's perception of whether or not he's going to be Moorhead's representative in St Paul," says Danielson. "Or he's going to go to St Paul and play the leadership game with the Republican Party."

The city of Moorhead is the heart of District 9A. For more than a decade voters have sent a Republican to the state House of Representatives. But, Danielson says research indicates voters attitudes may be changing.

"In our last exit poll, we asked them (voters) to fill in a questionnaire and whether or not they were strong or weak Democrats, Independents, strong or weak Republicans," says Danielson. "About an equal amount of Democratic Party identifiers as Republican Party identifiers, showed up on our exit polls."

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Image Wade Hannon

The incumbent faces two challengers, and they're both trying to exploit criticism, Lanning has neglected his district. Green Party candidate Wade Hannon says Lanning has been too eager to follow the party line.

"Lanning has been a very good representative for the suburban, wealthy folks down in the Twin Cities area," says Hannon. "But I can't see how he's really done anything that has helped out people here. He hasn't really opposed the administration on any issues."

Hannon says the issue of local government aid is a good example. Hannon says Lanning supported cuts to the aid program. But Rep. Morrie Lanning defends his record. He says he's delivered for his district. He says lawmakers had to make spending cuts to balance the state's $4.5 billion deficit. He says despite the cuts, Moorhead still received its fair share of state aid.

"My last year as mayor, Moorhead got $5.1 million in local aid, in 2003, 2004, $7.1 million, which is about $1.1 million reduction from where it should have been," says Lanning. "But still, a $2 million increase over my last year as mayor, which was 2001."

Lanning says charges he's not taking care of his district are wrong. He cites examples of securing funding for arts programs, money for tax relief and economic development, as examples of how well he's done his job.

Politicians in Moorhead will tell you that to win an election here, you have to go door to door and meet the people.

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Image Republican Morrie Lanning

Lauri Winterfeldt-Shanks is no exception. Shanks is the DFL Party's candidate. Winterfeldt-Shanks is a first-term City Council member. She says some of Lanning's traditional supporters are disappointed. She's says technically, Lanning is correct. Moorhead did see an increase in local government aid.

"But the difference is, that our local levy went down, the state took over the local portion of the property tax. And I think it's just such a graphic indication of exactly what we're talking about," says Winterfeldt-Shanks. "Yes, we may be getting more state dollars, but it's because the state is taking our property tax money and so we don't have the ability to raise the money on our own."

Winterfeldt-Shanks says informal door-to-door polling by her volunteers shows a lot of undecided voters. All three candidates say they'll spend most of their time before election day, knocking on doors asking for votes.

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