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Area Democrats for state Legislature are winning the money battle

Nearly all DFL candidates running in legislative districts in Olmsted County have more money in the bank than their Republican counterparts.

2022 Midterm Election in United States of America
2022 Midterm Election in United States of America
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ROCHESTER — Money is not everything in politics. Well-heeled candidates lose political battles all the time

But a fat campaign war chest sure is a nice thing to have. And when there are a lot of relatively new candidates in and around Olmsted County running for the Minnesota Legislature, it is priceless.

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In the eight races for the state House and Senate whose districts include all or parts of Olmsted County, the Democratic candidates are winning the money battle.

According to recently filed campaign finance reports, all but one of the eight DFL candidates running for Minnesota Legislature in the area have more cash-on-hand than the Republican candidates.

And in six of those races, Democrats have raised more money than their GOP adversaries, sometimes by a lot.

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Area political experts note that money doesn’t trump everything. Incumbency and name recognition are huge advantages for seasoned politicians. Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, has never been a great fundraiser, but has won his GOP-leaning district the last six election cycles.

But when the advantage of incumbency is absent and all things are equal, money can be a deciding factor. It is a marker of a campaign’s effectiveness, as well as a sign of public enthusiasm for a candidate, experts note.

And despite the nation’s political mood shifting in the GOP direction, the DFL is winning the financial sweepstakes in the area.

“It’s a sign of the enthusiasm and energy in general on the Democratic side of the ticket,” said Mark Liebow, chairman of Senate District 24 DFL.

But each race is different, and let’s take a look at several of them:

Senate District 24: DFL candidate Aleta Borrud, a retired doctor, is once again challenging GOP Sen. Carla Nelson for a state Senate seat. She narrowly lost in her first attempt in 2020. And she is outracing Nelson in the fundraising department by a huge seven-to-one margin.

Borrud outraised Nelson last time and still lost. But she also has more name recognition this time around. The stakes are huge. With Republicans narrowly in control of the Senate, victories by Borrud and DFL candidate Liz Boldon, a state representative from Rochester, could flip control of the upper chamber to the Democrats. Outside money will flood this race, dwarfing the sums raised by the two candidates.

“What the candidates raise in this race isn’t going to matter much,” said Bill Kuisle, a GOP activist and one-time state legislator.

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Senate District 25: Boldon, DFL-Rochester, looks like a shoo-in to win her first term in the Minnesota Senate, based on fundraising totals alone. She has growing name recognition. She raised $58,000 in the last six months, giving her a huge financial advantage over GOP candidate Ken Navitsky, who has raised $4,500, and Cannabis candidate Bill Rood, who has raised nothing.

Senate District 20: In one of the exceptions to DFL financial dominance, conservative firebrand Steve Drazkowski has jumped to a significant fundraising lead over DFLer Bradley Drenckhahn. The eight-term House representative has nearly $30,000 cash on hand to his opponent’s $4,000.

House District 25A: DFL candidate Kim Hicks lost to Quam in 2020, but her political campaign this year is off to a strong start. The disability advocate has raised nearly twice as much money as her GOP opponent, Wendy Phillips, $18,294 to $11,340. Hicks also has nearly three times more cash on hand.

House District 25B: DFL candidate Andy Smith, owner of the Gray Duck Theater & Coffee House, has raced to a dominating lead in fundraising over GOP candidate John Robinsin. In the last half-year, Smith has raised more than $10,000 to Robinson’s $650.

For a candidate with limited name recognition, the ability to raise money is often critical, area analysts note.

There are 134 House seats and 67 Senate seats up for grabs. There is only so much money to spread around. And for outside groups and statewide parties looking to support effective candidates who can help them gain control of one or both chambers, fundraising prowess is a sign of political viability.

As the adage goes, “we don’t fund landslides or losers.”

On the other hand, the political season is still young, Kuisle notes. And the public hasn’t yet turned its attention to the general election, which is three months away.

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“Some Democrats came out early, and Republicans were late in getting into the races,” Kuisle said. “So it’s gonna take them some time to build up a war chest.”

Kuisle won’t say that there is no connection between raising money and winning elected office. But he has known political candidates to win on a shoe-string budget.

“There have been people who have run cheap campaigns and won,” he said.

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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