Small Race, Big Money: Candidates and outside groups spending freely in Loon-Kihne House contest

State Rep. Jenifer Loon
State Rep. Jenifer Loon

For a small legislative district in Eden Prairie, there’s some relatively big money in play for the Republican primary contest between incumbent state Rep. Jenifer Loon and challenger Sheila Kihne. 

The candidates for House District 48B together have raised close to six figures — with outside groups also spending on their behalf.

The spark for this primary playoff (and all that money)? Loon’s vote in 2013 to legalize same-sex marriage.

Loon defends the vote as reflecting the will of her district. “I needed to understand what my district was telling me when they rejected the marriage amendment [the 2012 referendum to amend the state constitution to make same sex marriage illegal] 60 percent to 40 percent,” Loon said. “I met with people, went to town hall meetings, sent out surveys, and the results were that the district supported same-sex marriage.”

Kihne comes from a different perspective. Though she did not respond to a request for an interview, her conservative positions are well articulated on Facebook, Twitter and various blogs. And her campaign website specifically notes her opposition to same sex marriage: “The vote to redefine marriage was a bad one,” she writes.

For a period following Loon’s vote to legalize same-sex marriage last year, it appeared that she would not face an endorsement challenge, unlike state Rep. David FitzSimmons of St. Michael, whose yes vote on gay marriage cost him the GOP endorsement for his seat. (Pat Garafolo and Andrea Keiffer were the two other GOP yes votes on marriage: Garafolo had no endorsement challenge, and Keiffer retired.)

But on the day of the endorsing convention, Kihne stepped in and succeeded in blocking the endorsement for Loon, forcing the lawmaker into a primary and a vigorous schedule of fundraising and name-dropping.

Sheila Kihne
Sheila Kihne

Those names read like a “Who’s Who” of Minnesota establishment Republicans. Former U.S. Senators Rudy Boschwitz and Norm Coleman, current and former congressmen John Kline, Erik Paulsen, and Mark Kennedy, and Minnesota Senate and House minority leaders Kurt Daudt and David Hann were honorary hosts of a Loon fundraiser in May.

The result: As of July 21, Loon reported $66,224 cash on hand with $56,196 in contributions since the first of the year. For the same period, Kihne had a cash balance of $15,304 with $23,944 in contributions (figures that might be typical in a two-party House race, but not for a primary). But those numbers are only part of the story. In addition to direct contributions, both candidates are getting support from outside groups. The Minnesota Family Council, for example, has sent out mailings on behalf of Kihne.

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Then there’s Freedom Minnesota, a PAC formed specifically to help Loon. The group raised $17,000 as of July 21 and spent all but $3,800 on polling, research and mail on her behalf. “Freedom Minnesota PAC’s focus will be to ensure the voters of Minnesota House District 48B have all the information they need to make a good decision when they vote in the Republican primary election on August 12,” said Brian McClung, the former Tim Pawlenty staffer who is serving as PAC’s treasurer. Most notably, the chair of Freedom Minnesota is Wheelock Whitney, the one-time Republican gubernatorial candidate who worked to defeat the marriage amendment two years ago.

Loon breezed to victory in 2012 with 60 percent of the vote. But she said she knows a primary victory, even with her fundraising advantage, is not a given.  “I’m doing all the same things I normally do,” she said.  “I’m just doing more of them.”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by David Frenkel on 07/29/2014 - 11:39 am.

    GOP

    Glad to see the GOP is concerned about the important issues facing the state of MN and didn’t notice the referendum on same sex marriage.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/29/2014 - 03:24 pm.

      The referendum was on changing the constitution, not support of gay marriage.

      It’s a distinction swing district Democrats hoped their constituents wouldn’t notice, but which they are preparing to pay for with their jobs in November.

      • Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 08/04/2014 - 08:56 am.

        That’s hilarious. Has the GOP not noticed that the U.S., and in particular Minnesota, is rapidly moving on from this issue? Hard-core conservatives still care, but for the bulk of voters and residents in MN, the fight is over.
        Rehashing it will continue to cement the image of the GOP as cultural dinosaurs.

  2. Submitted by Sally Sorensen on 07/29/2014 - 11:48 am.

    Minnesota Family Council spending on cable ads

    It’s not just mailings for Kihne on the part of the Minnesota Family Council

    It made a $11,764 ad buy in Comcast’s Twin Cities Southwest cable marke between June 16, 2014 and June 29, 2014, on AFN, CNN, Discovery, ESPN, FSNO, FXNC, History Channel, Lifetime, TNT, TWC and USA channels.

    Civis Communications, owned by social conservative large dollar Republican contributor Bob Cummins, had the agency contract for the MFA ads.

    Documentation here:: http://www.bluestemprairie.com/bluestemprairie/2014/07/loon-kihne-via-civis-communications-minnesota-family-council-made-11764-comcast-media-buy.html

    Bluestem also reported on a full-page newspaper ad purchased by the MFC on Kihne’s behalf.

  3. Submitted by Tommy Johnson on 07/29/2014 - 12:35 pm.

    For me, the issue is Veterans

    This primary is important for Veterans. Jenifer Loon is a very good friend of Veterans. Sheila Khine, in blog posts, questioned the patriotism of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, its Founder, who served in Iraq, four Retired Generals and for good measure, a full-bird Colonel too. Although I disagree with Rep. Loon on many issues, I know she supports the Veterans. I also know she’d never embarrass the office she holds. I cannot say the same about Ms. Kihne. http://www.twoputttommy.com/2014/07/14/from-the-archives-sheila-kihne-channels-the-ghost-of-joe-mccarthy/

  4. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 07/29/2014 - 02:57 pm.

    I must agree with Mr. Johnson

    Even though I am poles apart politically from Ms. Jenifer Loon, she is a person of high integrity for whom I would vote given the opportunity. (I do not live in her district) Her support of our veterans is especially gratifying as well as her political courage in voting yes on same sex marriage, because she correctly perceived the majority opinion of those living in her district.

    In contrast my dealings with Ms. Kihne over the years have been fraught with difficulties.

    For but one example of her unprofessional behavior:

    Being a GOP Princess Means Never Having to Say You are Sorry
    http://ow.ly/zIG2A

    There is a reason why all the GOP heavy hitters are backing Ms. Loon. Ms. Kihne and people of her persuasion are toxic to most Republicans – and Democrats. I would much rather vote for a person of integrity, like Ms. Loon, than for someone like Ms. Kihne.

  5. Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 07/29/2014 - 02:29 pm.

    Shaky platform

    If you run on a platform of denying some of your constituents basic rights that the others enjoy, I can’t imagine why anyone but the most mean-spirited would vote for you. ‘Course, maybe that’s her target constituency.

  6. Submitted by mark wallek on 07/30/2014 - 09:47 am.

    Failing nation

    Any more evidence of a failing nation needed?

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