Rochester, Minn. — Men sit around playing cards at Kelsey's Kitchen in the tiny town of Mazeppa. In between sips of early morning coffee customers ruminate about the upcoming elections. Of particular interest this morning is the 1st District congressional race. That's because incumbent Gil Gutknecht's expected to join the breakfast crowd shortly.
John Adams visits with friends in a back corner booth. He's a longtime Republican and big Gutknecht supporter.
"He votes our rural values all the time," says Adams. "Our rural conservative values and he's very consistent and he's done a very good job this year."
Not long after that Gutknecht arrives and begins to make the rounds. He chats with two older women about quilting. A table full of retired farmers want to talk about the war in Iraq.
Gutknecht hasn't spent much time on the campaign trail this season. Congress recessed in early October, and Gutknecht has spent the weeks since traveling his southern Minnesota district shoring up support.
"I've been in this business for a long time and this been probably less pressure in terms of a race then any I have had before," Gutknecht explains. "On the other hand that doesn't mean that we don't take it seriously. I don't want the voters to think that I don't appreciate them."
Gutknecht has years of history with the folks in Kelsey's Kitchen. Many remember him as a young man selling school supplies to the local school district. Others recall his days an auctioneer. These are the stories passed around the table as the Kelsey's Kitchen crowd reminiscence. They don't talk much about Gutknecht's policy positions during his seven terms in Congress.
That makes for an uphill battle for his Democratic challenger Lee Pomeroy. He lives in Mankato and entered the race late after the endorsed candidate dropped out. Since then Pomeroy has worked on his campaign full time billing himself as a man of the people.
"I'm not with the in-crowd in Washington," says Pomeroy. "I'm just a guy with a wife and two kids. I'm a teacher and a small businessman and a regular guy."
Pomeroy says he has a plan to fix the health care crisis, help older adults around the district, and bring needed improvements to the regions economy. But he concedes despite his best efforts he's a long shot.
"You know obviously the odds are against anybody who's running against an incumbent. I don't care if the incumbent is a Democrat or a Republican or green or red or purple," says Pomeroy. "In the past three elections, I think it's, 95-percent of the incumbents get re-elected. That's 19 out of 20 times. There's always that one time out of 20 when things happen and it could happen here."
Pomeroy heads out to door knock in a quiet Albert Lea neighborhood. It's a rainy afternoon and he holds plastic bags filled with campaign literature.
He introduces himself to an older gentleman wearing a California sweatshirt and small talk ensues.
Pomeroy has a tiny campaign fund compared with Gutknecht. He says his strategy is based on getting out and meeting people.
Lake Crystal farmer Greg Mikkelson is also pursuing the 1st District seat as an Independence Party candidate. He ran two years ago under the Green Party ticket. His current platform calls for American troops to pull out of Iraq. He also supports a repeal of No Child Left Behind.