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Edina caucuses start GOP’s efforts to reclaim suburban House seats

House District 49A, a former GOP stronghold, is now represented by former-Republican-turned-DFLer Ron Erhardt.

Polly Peterson Bowles, standing at right: “I think our government and state are getting off track.”
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday

Round One of the Republican fight to reclaim the suburban legislative seats lost in 2012 started here at Southview Middle School in Edina.

The precincts that make up House District 49A — now represented by former-Republican-turned-DFLer Ron Erhardt — caucused to hear from two candidates who want the GOP endorsement.

Polly Peterson Bowles, an attorney whose father once represented the district, and Dario Anselmo, the former owner of the Fine Line Music Café, brought similar credentials and name recognition to some 300 people at the district caucuses.

They also bring a tilt toward the middle in a district that has traditionally supported fiscally conservative but socially moderate Republicans and, for the first time in decades, elected a DFL state representative.

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Bowles made her pitch to the grass-roots sentiments that caucus-goers share. “We are the best people to craft solutions,” she said. “I think our government and state are getting off track.”

Anselmo, who is active in both business and education groups, appealed to the district’s pride in its schools. “I’ve always been involved in education,” he said, citing his work on the Edina Education Fund, a group that raises money for the district’s school system.

Their messages appeared to resonate in Precinct Four, where Scott Honour and Mike McFadden — viewed as the more moderate candidates in the GOP field — respectively won the candidates’ straw poll for governor and U.S. Senate.

The precinct’s 15 participants then went on to debate whether Republicans needed to return to the center. Most agreed the party needed to be more “pragmatic.”

Precinct Four’s straw-poll choices, however, did not reflect the statewide results.

In the gubernatorial race, former state Rep. Marty Seifert, making his second run for the office, reactivated his 2010 base among the party faithful, leading the statewide straw poll with 28 percent. He was followed by state Sen. Dave Thompson at 25 percent. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson finished in third.

In the statewide U.S. Senate straw poll, state Sen. Julianne Ortman won with 31 percent. Businessman Mike McFadden got 23 percent, and state Rep. Jim Abeler received 15 percent.

Dario Anselmo speaking to attendees at the HD49A precinct caucuses
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Dario Anselmo, right, who is active in both business and education groups, appealed to the district’s pride in its schools.

But in 49A, the state Republican Party is less interested in the district’s preferences for governor and senator than in the choice of candidate to run against Erhardt in November. House Republicans, smarting from their loss of this district, have already dispatched a campaign assistant for Bowles.

Anselmo, who announced his candidacy just two weeks ago, reported on caucus night that he has already raised more than $20,000. “We know it’s going to be expensive” for Republicans to reclaim the seat, he told one precinct gathering.

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Both have indicated they are likely to abide by their party endorsement.

Bowles and Anselmo have one more level to go — the March 15 Senate district convention that will endorse candidates for both House seats.