As MN Caucus Nears, Who Will GOP Voters Pick To Replace Rep. Kline?

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With precinct caucuses just three weeks away, Republicans apparently don’t have a favorite yet for Minnesota’s only open congressional seat. A preference poll after a debate between six of the GOP candidates shows no candidate has broad support and interviews The UpTake did following the debate found that many of those watching are still undecided.

“I didn’t know there were six people in the race until tonight” said Janalee Cooper of Northfield who wants to be a delegate to the CD2 Republican endorsing convention.

David Gerson won the poll, but fell far short of winning a majority of support from more than 150 people who attended the 90 minute debate in Cannon Falls.

Gerson along with Jason Lewis, John Howe, Pam Myhra, Darlene Miller and Gene Rechtzigel are running for the congressional seat being vacated by Republican John Kline. David Benson-Staebler is also running, but did not appear at the debate.

While the number of ballots cast in the poll were small (105) compared to the number of Republicans who will go to the polls in November, a large number of those watching the debate are likely to show up at Minnesota’s March 1 caucuses. Because only a small percentage of voters attend the caucuses, those who voted in the poll or attended the debate will likely have a large say in who the party endorses.

Goodhue County Republican chair Merle Larson, whose group organized the debate, said he was a little surprised that Howe finished third behind Gerson and Lewis. “This is John’s home county and I thought he might be a little higher than that.”

Those who liked Gerson mentioned he was a “real conservative” and they liked his stance that the Affordable Health Care Act was unconstitutional. “I believe in what he is trying to do,” said a Farmington man who volunteered for Gerson in the last election. He wants Gerson elected to “get us back on track with the constitution of the United States.” In 2012 and 2014 Gerson got some traction with Tea Party activists who thought Rep. Kline was not conservative enough.

One voter said she was supporting Lewis because of the “safety” issue. “Those other dudes over there are coming to try and get us I want to make sure we stay safe,” she said as people exited the Cannon Falls High School auditorium where the debate was held. Lewis, a former conservative talk show host, is in favor of “securing the borders” against “unlawful immigration” and says the Islamic State will use the Syrian refugee crisis “to infiltrate the United States.”

Miller, a businesswoman who Rep. Kline says shows the most promise of being able to fundraise for the expected expensive race, barely registered in the post-debate poll. She received four votes — one more than Rechtzigel who announced he was running the day of the debate. Miller announced her candidacy a month ago and has indicated she plans to run in the August primary if she doesn’t get the Republican endorsement.

Many undecided

Others who came to listen were not willing to commit to a candidate yet. A Pine Island man wearing a “Fair Tax” hat promoting a national retail sales tax said he was considering several candidates. He favored Howe and Gerson. “I’m a little perplexed. I like the sound of Jason Lewis, but I don’t know if that’s the answer yet.”

“I’m still waiting to make up my mind. It’s too soon to tell,” said a man who listed rising taxes, rising debt and concern over how government money was being spent as his top issues.

“It’s a jobs issue,” said another undecided voter. “We need a good old-fashioned labor shortage. The middle class is drowning.”

Janalee Cooper said she was concerned about national security, but “my top priority is who can win against the presumed DFL candidate (Angie Craig).” And so far Cooper hasn’t decided which of the candidates is best for that task.

Preference Poll Results
Gerson 40
Lewis 33
Howe 17
Myhra 8
Miller 4
Rechtzigel 3

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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