Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


When it comes to party affiliation, Paulsen is GOP’s ‘stealth candidate’ for congressional seat

The race in Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District was to be one of those contests the whole nation studied.  We had Democrat versus Republican in a suburban district that is neither conservative nor liberal.

Moderate Republicans have controlled the seat since 1961. But with Jim Ramstad stepping down, could the Republicans hold on?  Would this be a congressional race that would tell us about how far Republicans have fallen?  Or would it show that there’s still life in the Grand Old Party?

Alas, answers may not be that clear.

At the moment, there is a Democrat in the contest. Ashwin Madia, a rookie in electoral politics and a recent convert to the DFL, wears his party’s label proudly.

But in a surprising development, the Republican Party does not appear to be fielding a candidate — yet — in this year’s big race. That will change, of course, when its endorsed candidate, Erik Paulsen, actually files for office (the deadline is Tuesday).

But so far, Paulsen, who for seven terms has been a Republican in the Minnesota House, makes virtually no mention of his party affiliation now that he’s running for Congress.

On the home page of his website, Paulsen uses the word “Republican” once. Here’s the context: “I’ve worked with Republicans and Democrats alike to control taxes and spending.”

On the “About Erik” page on his site, he writes about growing up in Chanhassen and meeting the woman who would become his wife in a St. Olaf College math class and family vacations and working for Target Corp. He even points out that for a while he was “House Majority Leader” in the Minnesota House.

Which party was he majority leader of?

He doesn’t mention that. (Hint: It isn’t in the majority anymore.)  

On his website’s  “Issues” page, Paulsen makes another single reference to Republicans. But again here’s the context: “Both Republicans and Democrats have done a poor job addressing the federal budget deficit.”

On his site,  he doesn’t even note that his much-honored predecessors, Bill Frenzel and Ramstad, were Republicans.  Writes Paulsen of the two: “Rather than politics, they were guided by the same common sense values I carry with me.”

It’s not until you call up a page titled “Newsroom” that you can find an item that notes that Paulsen is the endorsed candidate of the Republican Party.

Paulsen’s approach seems to be working — at least when it comes to raising cash. His campaign reported Tuesday that Paulsen raised $600,000 in the second quarter of the year and will enter crunch time in the campaign with $1.1 million on hand. (The Madia campaign says it will release complete fundraising information on Monday.)

In a statement about his fundraising, Paulsen had this to say, “It’s clear from our success, people want a Congressman who will fix a broken Congress and get things done.”

But he apparently isn’t so sure that they want a Republican.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Tony Wagner on 07/09/2008 - 01:45 pm.


    To my knowledge, Paulsen has never scored a perfect 100 from the Taxpayer’s League, so to claim he “hasn’t once veered” from their vote is an exaggeration at best.

    Despite his time in Republican leadership positions, Paulsen generally hasn’t stuck his neck out as a hyper-partisan like certain higher-profile representatives, particularly on divisive social issues. I have no doubt that his de-emphasis on party is partly tied to the public perception of the “moderate” Ramstad, his district, and Republicans in general in the state of Minnesota, but I also feel he is closer to the center and more willing to bridge the divides than certain other Republicans.

  2. Submitted by Tommy Johnson on 07/09/2008 - 03:11 pm.

    Tony, while Erik isn’t one to “stick his neck out” to achieve “hyper-partisan” results, he’s certainly been hyper-partisan.

    For anyone to suggest that anyone could reach the top of the Republican Party House Caucus, in this decade, withoug being “hyper-partisan” is simply being disingenous.

    I remember when Erik Paulsen first door-knocked me, back in 1994. And I’ve followed his political career ever since.

    Erik Paulsen is as partisan as partisan gets, and his “bi-partisan persona of today is simply a cynical sham by one of the slickest politicians the 3rd district has ever had the misfortune to witness.

  3. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 07/09/2008 - 01:17 pm.

    I find this both hilarious and frightening. Paulsen has spent his entire political career as a neo-con, right-wing, no-new-taxes Republican who hasn’t once veered from the classic Minnesota Tax Payer’s League vote. Unlike Ramstad who has voted his conscience first and his party second, I doubt Paulsen could find a single vote for which he could claim the same thing..

  4. Submitted by Tony Wagner on 07/10/2008 - 10:15 am.


    Please enlighten me as to Paulsen’s “hyper-partisan” positions or activities, or cite some evidence of his “slick” political style. I’d honestly like to know — if it exists, it isn’t getting much play in the media (at least not yet).

    My impression of him, from following his legislative career the past few years, is that he is very business-oriented, and definitely favors a lower-tax environment, but he’s not terribly interested in legislating on more “social” issues or grandstanding to stir up the new conservative base. That’s the kind of Republican I could live with, and despite the big mouths and media emphasis on other Republican leaders, I suspect this breed still exists somewhere in political circles. Again, if I am incorrect, please provide some specific examples. Thanks.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/10/2008 - 04:39 pm.

    One hyper-partisan action taken by Paulsen is to sign the self-same “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” that the governor and other right-wing Republicans have used to weaken Minnesota’s ability to maintain our previous excellence in education, infrastructure, moderation AND progressivity in taxation, and essential social services. (See; Americans for Tax Reform, the web site of Grover Norquist, creator of the No New Taxes ideology and a new group called “Leave Us Alone.”)

  6. Submitted by Cheryl Poling on 07/10/2008 - 05:41 pm.


    May I interject? I’d submit that Paulsen is as partisan as any GOP’er who is a died in the wool ultra religious conservative. His 100% rating by MCCL is quite indicative of his bias in voting. On a separate note, I spoke with him personally on his stand on DADT and gay rights. He has the “compassionate listening” thing down quite well but told those of us who asked that he belongs to Victory Lutheran in Eden Prairie and he is compassionate toward gays but doesn’t support equal rights.

    I have no problem with being pro-business. Most Democrats I know are pro-business but also pro-workers, too. It shouldn’t be one or the other but a compromise to promote both. The separation comes with social issues.

    Basically, Paulsen is a rightwing, socially ultraconservative candidate and the public needs to know.

  7. Submitted by Tony Wagner on 07/11/2008 - 09:34 am.

    Thanks for the info, all. I know Paulsen signed the no-new-taxes pledge, but I believe by the Taxpayer’s League standard, he actually broke it (although so did Pawlenty?), so it doesn’t seem that he is 100% committed to their platform. (And he has never scored 100% on their year-end ratings either, according to the Taxpayer’s League web site.)

    He’s been very under-the-radar about his social values too. I have no doubt he is personally opposed to abortion and gay rights, and he will probably continue voting along those lines, but it is slightly encouraging that he doesn’t see himself as the “tip of the spear” on legislating those issues. It is easy to dismiss as an election-year shift, but it is my impression he has never been terribly vocal on these issues. (If anyone has news articles, sponsored legislation, or public quotes to the contrary, please share.)

    We could do better — that’s why I will be paying close attention to Mr. Madia — but we could also do much worse for a Republican candidate.

  8. Submitted by Ed Day on 07/10/2008 - 10:11 pm.

    A few things I’d like Doug Grow to look into:

    Paulsen boasts 16 years of business experience, yet he has been a legislator for 14 years. He appears to be a fairly young man. Did Paulsen ever hold a job of consequence before becoming an elected official?

    Along those lines, Paulsen was elected in 1994 along with many other freshman in Gingrich’s Republican Revolution – which featured the voting bloc of “Angry White Males” and anti-government rhetoric railing against career politicians and a promise term limits to limit political careers to 12 years. (Yes, this was coordinated at the federal level, but the attitude had to be felt at the local level).

    So does anyone have a problem with the fact that he boasts the ability to be an agent of change? This is prominently placed on his home page: “Congress is broken. And, if elected, I intend to help fix it. We need new energy, new vision and forward-thinking leaders who appreciate the necessity for change.”

    Finally, Paulsen seems quite proud to have worked with Gov. Pawlenty – a standard bearer for the Republican party as a potential vice presidential candidate — to erase the $4.5 billion budget deficit by using accounting tricks and one-time funds, raiding the tobacco settlement, and gutting social services and health care, hamstringing K-12 education by freezing per-pupil funding, abruptly cutting local government aid, which caused cities to make rash decisions about services and new development, and delaying investments in infrastructure such as the much-needed work on the Crosstown highway.

    Do you know how closely Paulsen worked with Gov. Pawlenty? Or is this just something a politician say on his website?

  9. Submitted by Joe Gardner on 07/24/2008 - 02:47 pm.

    Have any of you thought at all about David Dillon? Give him a look. You just might like him. I looked at all of them and David fell into my mind as to someone that will listen to the people and do what is best for Minnesota and not the party interest. Think of the money these 2 others are spending. They bring in party people from Washington to run their campaigns? That isn’t Minnesotan at all. That is Washington running things. Who will they listen to? Not to Minnesotans because these 2 are now tied to party people and will owe them their political lives to Washington, not owed to the People of Minnesota.
    Take a look and see.

Leave a Reply