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On the campaign trail: Zellers pitches small business and (his own) youth

The former House speaker is including many small businesses on his campaign stops, and taking a dig at “the old ’60s liberal model” along the way.

Kurt Zellers: “I have picked up on the campaign trail that maybe it’s time we have someone in the governor's office that still has kids.”
MinnPost file photo by Brian Halliday

Editor’s note: This is one of occasional reports on the campaigns of the four Republican gubernatorial candidates.

It’s all business for Kurt Zellers.  Or rather, it’s all about business for the Republican state representative and former House speaker running for governor.

Along with the coffee shops and county fairs, Zellers includes small businesses on his campaign stops, places like Lundell Manufacturing in Plymouth, Superior Manufacturing in Morris, Plastic Tec in Pine City.

“They worry about getting qualified workers for their job openings and also issues like affordable housing for those workers,” he said.

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From the day he announced he was running against Mark Dayton (and bypassing the Republican endorsement process), Zellers has made jobs and business growth a centerpiece argument. He was one of the first Republicans to position himself as a proponent of mining expansion in northern Minnesota, taking advantage of the friction in the DFL between union members and environmentalists.

His Twitter posts repeat the theme: “Sign our petition to revitalize mining here,” and “More news about our effort to revitalize mining and grow jobs in Minnesota,” they say.

Gen X counterpoint

Zellers also is promoting the advantage of youth. At age 44, with a young family, he is the Gen X counterpoint to the baby-boomer Dayton.

“I have picked up on the campaign trail that maybe it’s time we have someone in the governor’s office that still has kids,” he said. “I don’t think that I’m exploiting the age difference — but voters are saying the old ’60s liberal model doesn’t work any more.”

Like his competition in the August 12 primary — endorsed candidate Jeff Johnson, former state Rep. Marty Seifert, and businessman Scott Honour — Zellers maintains he’s the best qualified to defeat Dayton in November and takes a jab at the others in explaining why.

“I’m the only guy that has beaten Mark Dayton. We believed we could balance the budget [in the 2011 legislative session] with a budget shortfall and turn it into a surplus,” he said.

‘The entire budget’ 

“As speaker, I passed the entire budget — not just pieces of a budget,” he added, referring to Siefert and Johnson and their terms as state representatives. “And, Honour, the [political] outsider message kind of works, but government doesn’t always run like business.”

A recent KSTP-TV poll showed that Zellers and Johnson were tied for the support of Republican primary voters.

“It’s a snapshot in time,” Zellers said of the poll. But, he admitted, it’s validation that his efforts to distinguish himself from the primary pack are working thus far.