As Minnesota’s U.S. House members go this year, Republican John Kline appears to be the safest of the lot. But it could have been different if Kline’s opponent, Steve Sarvi, would have raised enough money to make the 2nd Congressional District competitive. And while Kline could still face a closer-than-comfortable race, it is unlikely that without a tsunami-like Democratic wave Sarvi will find a seat in Congress.
Sarvi has the pedigree that should make him competitive. As an Iraq war veteran and former city official in the most conservative area of the district, Victoria, his profile sets up well against former Marine Kline. Sarvi started to make waves early in 2007 by starting his campaign while still serving overseas. (See clarification below.) And when he returned from duty to begin his run, he was listed nationally among veterans running as Democrats challenging incumbents. But he has lacked traction or momentum to put the race on the map.
Kline on the other hand seems to keep drawing overly ambitious DFL opponents who underperform. In 2006 FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley was well set to run a competitive race. But she ran an erratic campaign and failed as a fundraiser, despite the possibility of gaining national attention for her race. Sen. Amy Klobuchar outperformed Rowley by 13 percentage points. Klobuchar won the district, Rowley got trounced.
Klobuchar’s numbers prove that with the right candidate the 2nd District will vote for a Democrat. In fact, the DFL had significant state legislative victories in 2006, defeating three GOP House incumbents and two incumbent GOP Senators. Quite a change from 2004, when President Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry by nine points.
The biggest challenge for Sarvi may be that the war and national security are not near the top of anyone’s minds these days. The economy is the number one issue for more than 50 percent of the electorate. In a recent Quinnipiac poll of Minnesota voters, 55 percent identified the economy as their top issue, compared with the war in Iraq at 10 percent and energy policy at 9 percent.
Sarvi’s inability to break through could be attributed to the competitiveness of the 3rd and 6th Congressional districts and the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota. However, in a year when Democrats are making major moves, few expect Sarvi to win — even in the case of a Democratic tidal wave.
For now, Kline is holding tight. Kline has outraised Sarvi nearly 4 to 1, giving him a war chest to buy TV ads if the race gets close.
Sarvi hasn’t ignited the excitement that Rep. Tim Walz did in 2006 when he upset Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht. As of today, Kline isn’t likely to go the way of Gutknecht, but that’s not because of the district or the dynamics of the time but rather the campaign of Sarvi.
Clarification: Sarvi did not formally launch his campaign until Oct. 4, 2007, after returning from the Middle East.