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Democrats to hold state convention in Rochester

Democrats from across the state will gather in Rochester this weekend with one shared goal in mind: Winning back control of the Minnesota House and Senate.

Rochester will host Minnnesota's DFL convention for the third time in six years. Party chairman Ken Martin says that's no accident.

"Rochester is decidedly a swing district that could go either way, and we know with some time, energy and focus down there we could completely turn it blue, and that is what we are trying to do," Martin said.

It wasn't always that way. For years, Rochester was considered solidly Republican. That changed in 2004 when DFLers Tina Liebling and Andy Welti were elected to the Minnesota House. Democrats built on those successes in 2006, with Kim Norton winning a House seat and Ann Lynch being elected to the Senate. But Republicans reclaimed two of those seats in 2010, when Mike Benson defeated Welti and Carla Nelson unseated Lynch.

Looking ahead to November, Democrats are hoping to gain control of both the state House and Senate. Nearly 2,700 delegates will rally behind the party's candidates at the Mayo Civic Center on Saturday and Sunday as they prepare for the campaign season ahead.


Republican delegates gathered earlier this month in St. Cloud to endorse a candidate to take on U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. They settled on state Rep. Kurt Bills, a high-school economics teacher from Rosemount. DFL delegates are expected to endorse Klobuchar to a second-term. There also will be plenty of speeches from party candidates, including three-term 1st District U.S. Rep. Tim Walz.

Campaign issue

The Mayo Civic Center seems to be a particularly apt venue for this year's convention. Area DFL candidates are expected to hit local Republicans hard for their failure to secure bonding money for the civic center's expansion. Rochester attorney Ken Moen said that will be a key issue in his campaign against Nelson. He said he also will talk about Republicans' failure to solve the state's systemic budget problems and the need for more education funding.

"I've been out door knocking for almost a month," Moen said. "People are not happy with what has gone on the last couple of sessions, and I sense there is a desire for change."

Nelson counters that she is proud to run on a record of Republicans helping to improve budget a budget deficit from more than $6 billion to closer to $1 billion.

"We're going to need to continue that type of fiscal discipline and priority setting into the future," she said.

That budget included additional spending for K-12 education. Nelson said that she supported bonding for the Mayo Civic Center, but when it became evident that there were not enough votes to pass the bill with the project included, she helped establish criteria for a $47.5 million economic development grant. That criteria lines up with the civic center project.

Legislative success debated


Martin said Democrats will make the case that Republicans presided over a do-nothing Legislature, with the minority party doing the heavy lifting to pass the session's only major accomplishments — a bonding bill and Vikings stadium bill.

But Republican Party of Olmsted County chairman Bruce Kaskubar said DFL Gov. Mar Dayton vetoed a large number of GOP-backed bills, and it's clear Democrats have done everything they can to pin the "do-nothing" label on Republican lawmakers. Ultimately, he said, voters will have to decide whether they agree with Republicans that Minnesota has a spending problem — not a revenue problem.

"The election depends a lot on whether that is a message that a majority of the voters agree with or not," he said.

Rochester Community and Technical College history professor Chad Israelson said he expects many of the local races to be competitive. In 2010, he said Republicans did not do much better than in 2008 in terms of the total number of votes they received. But those votes were enough to win, with many Obama supporters who voted in 2008 failing to show up at the polls.

"If you look at the local elections (in 2010), those were pretty tight, so a few voters here and there could have swung it," he said.

Israelson said it is hard to know how Democrats will fare in the fall. There is an anti-incumbent mood, which could hurt Republicans. Several area Republicans also will face their first election test since winning two years ago. On the other hand, the inclusion of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on the ballot could help boost Republican turnout.

"Rochester is not just strong Republican any longer," he said, "so really anything that happens wouldn't be a total shock."

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