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Rochester GOP Rep. Mike Benson talks at his home about his intention to run for Congress against Tim Walz DFL.

State Rep. Mike Benson, a Rochester Republican, today announced his bid to unseat 1st District DFL Rep. Tim Walz.

Benson made the announcement outside the Ramada Hotel in Rochester.

In a recent interview with the Post-Bulletin, the two-term state representative said he was prompted to run because of concerns about the growing number of federal mandates and regulations being forced on the states.

"I don't want my legacy to be that I was willing to accept that the better days of America are behind us, and I don't think they have to be," he said.

Benson, who represents District 26B in the Legislature, becomes the first Republican to announce a 2014 run against Walz, 49, a former Mankato high school teacher who was first elected in 2006. It appears he may soon have plenty of company, with several Republicans expressing interest in taking on Walz.

In addition, former state Sen. Al DeKruif of Madison Lake, said he is thinking about a run. Former state Sen. Mike Parry, who ran for the seat last year but lost in the Republican primary to former state Rep. Allen Quist, is considering another run. Also seriously considering a bid is Byron resident Aaron Miller, a command sergeant major in the Army reserves who was awarded the Bronze Star and works for a medical technology company.

Another name being mentioned is Jim Hagedorn of Blue Earth, who ran unsuccessfully for the 1st District Republican endorsement in 2010. At this point he said it is "premature" to talk about whether he will run for the seat, but said he is not ruling it out. His father is former 2nd District GOP Congressman Tom Hagedorn.

Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, had been considering a run but decided against it, citing his growing family and responsibilities with his family business. Quist has also said he doesn't plan to run.

Path into politics

Benson, 57, grew up in Illinois and started working for the U.S. Postal Service at the age of 17. He began his career as a clerk and worked his way up the ranks, including a stint as Rochester's postmaster. He ended his career as a district manager in Philadelphia and retired after 31 years with the post office in 2004. He moved back to Rochester and began working as an associate professor of business at Crossroads College.

Benson's political career began in 2010 after a hard-fought campaign to unseat three-term incumbent Rep. Andy Welti, a Democrat from Plainview. During his time in the Legislature, Benson became an outspoken critic of government spending, joining the "Not a Penny More" caucus. He also helped lead efforts to require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

If elected, Benson said one of his top priorities would be to rein in government spending.

"There shouldn't be an area of government that should not be looked at," he said. "Government has gotten too big, period."

Fiscal focus

Specifically, he would back major funding cuts to the Department of Education, the Department of Transportation, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Energy. In many cases, those departments oversee efforts that are better handled at a local level, he said.

Other priorities include overhauling the nation's tax system to make it simpler, and taking steps to shore up Medicare and Social Security. He said he is also deeply concerned about the National Security Agency collecting Americans' phone records and tracking Internet use.

"I think it's a violation of the Fourth Amendment, plain and simple," he said.

Benson did not commit to abide by the Republican Party's endorsement process and would not say whether he will also seek to keep his state House seat. Despite Walz's advantage as an incumbent with a sizable campaign war chest, Benson said he is confident he can beat him.

"I think I am a much better match for CD1 than Representative Walz, and the fact is his voting record hasn't always matched with his rhetoric. He may be seen as somebody who is middle of the road, but that doesn't always bear out," he said.

In a statement, Walz campaign spokesman Trevor Vaubel said the congressman is focused on serving his constituents.

"Republicans will have a process to select their nominee. Tim Walz is working hard for southern Minnesotans and focusing on creating jobs, growing the economy, and advocating for our nation's veterans," he said.

The 1st Congressional District is one of the few remaining swing districts in the country, and it is noteworthy that so many Republicans are willing to consider making a bid for the seat, said Joseph Kunkel, a political science professor at Mankato State University — Mankato.

Republicans will be challenged to put forward a candidate who can not only win the support of the party's conservative base but also appeal to district voters as a whole, Kunkel said.

"Most of the interest group activity and probably the big money is coming from the most extreme wing of the party," he said. "A Republican candidate has to prove he is bona fide to the Republican base now, but then in the general election present himself as a more moderate candidate."

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