The endorsing convention Saturday to replace retired GOP state senator Branden Petersen took a familiar turn.
District 35 delegates, from Anoka, Andover and Ramsey, endorsed Andy Aplikowski, a well-known Republican Party activist. But to win the seat in a special election February 9, Aplikowski will have to defeat a respected Republican, former state Rep. Jim Abeler, in a January 12 primary.
Abeler tried for the endorsement, even though he said from the start he would not abide by it. That appeared to make the difference for the 138 delegates who gave Aplikowski the endorsement on the fourth ballot, after two other candidates — Brad Sunderland and Don Huizenga — dropped out.
Republicans have represented the district so long that no one can name that last Democrat who got elected. But the politics of Senate District 35 are more intriguing than the general election results might indicate.
There’s a libertarian vein that helped propel Branden Petersen to office and that was likely to re-elect him, despite his controversial vote in favor of same-sex marriage in 2013.
Aplikowski, who criticized Petersen’s vote, indirectly addressed the issue in his remarks. “We deserve a senator who respects all of our principles,” he told the group assembled at Oak View Middle School in Andover.
Abeler was a member of the Minnesota House when the gay marriage vote was taken. He voted against it. But before that, he was one of a small group of Republicans that voted to override then Gov. Pawlenty’s veto of a transportation bill in 2008. He has a reputation as an independent thinker who put his stamp on major health care and education bills.
He said he worked to be part of the endorsement process, but there’s more involved. “While the party endorsement is useful there are 85,000 people out there, many of whom know me and are cheering me on to run,” he said. “Many people, even delegates and officials in the party, have encouraged me to run in the primary. This is the first step of many.”
Aplikowski said this campaign will be different for Abeler. “Jim Abeler has represented the district a long time but he’s never had to run against an endorsed candidate,” he said. “That’s a huge advantage to me, where I’m actually going to be able to go into this with the party working to support me. “
Abeler and Aplikowski are both expected to have relatively solid groups of core supporters, but they have some challenges before either takes on presumed DFL-endorsed candidate Roger Johnson in a special election February 9. The January primary date will require campaigning over the holidays and during less than ideal weather conditions.
The GOP primary will also test just how much the Republican Party’s endorsement makes a difference in the outcome of a contest involving two capable candidates.