Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Pig pile in the Sixth -- remember its size 

After Congressman Mark Kennedy's declaration of his candidacy for the Mark Dayton seat, there has been an outpouring of interest in the Sixth congressional district seat. I can tell you that I've had no less than three potential candidates contact me, and two of the three are now in the race. State Senator Michele Bachmann of Stillwater has declared her candidacy with a splashy announcement from her town, while state Representative Jim Knoblach asked reporters into his office and said he was running, but not ramping up his campaign until after the legislative session closes for the year.
�I�m deliberately not having a press conference to highlight the fact I consider my top job for the next few months to be the Legislature,� said Knoblach on a tour of the Capitol press room.
I do not know Bachmann at all, but Jim Knoblach is from St. Cloud and known to all of us up here. And this is one of his two big advantages.

Take a look at the map of the Sixth CD and you see that it wraps from the eastern suburbs and the Wisconsin state line -- including Bachmann's Stillwater, over the northern suburbs and up the I-94/U.S. 10 corridor into my home Stearns County in St. Cloud. It covers actually west of here by a good 20 miles. Now look at the candidates besides Bachmann and Knoblach and where are they?

The two biggest possibilities would be Cheri Pierson Yecke of Blaine and Phil Krinkie of Shoreview. Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer is from Big Lake (in Sherburne County, about where the signpost for U.S. 10 is on the map) would be the closest opponent to Knoblach. Two longshot candidates are a little closer -- Mark Ourada, a state representative from the Buffalo area in Wright, and Jay Esmay, a local Republican party district chair in St. Cloud. But it's unlikely they gain traction in a crowded field (which could get even more crowded if other longshots like Michelle Fischbach or Dan Nygaard were to get in).

Now certainly Anoka and Washington counties are the population weight of the Sixth, with about three of every four voters in those two places. And Bachmann's strong stands on education and abortion probably play pretty well in the rural counties. But she and Yecke stand a good chance of splitting votes. Phil Krinkie is considered a hero of the taxpayer and the Taxpayer's League; he's quite distinct from the others in the race, but has the disadvantage of having just moved into the district, and all the shooting at the Taxpayers League may turn on Krinkie before much longer.

Meanwhile, Knoblach runs from a safe area in a part of the district almost nobody else comes from. He's been the head of the bonding committee and now runs the new state Ways and Means committee in the Minnesota House. From a position like that he has enough sway to attract the $2 million or more that will be needed to run this race, a price tag that will quickly shake out the field. That's his second advantage -- between his local fundraising in St. Cloud, where he will have no challenge, and his access to potential contributors from his position on Ways and Means, he has deep pockets.

Knoblach is not flashy and not bombastic. He is somewhat more technocratic than charismatic. But political watchers around the state would make a mistake to ignore his candidacy. While some others may come out of the gate strong trying to drive other candidates out of the race, they are unlikely to shake Jim off their tails any time soon. This should be fun to watch.