John Kline safely ensconced on conservative island of GOP stability

Rep. John Kline called election night "bittersweet" with his victory and John McCain's loss.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Rep. John Kline called election night “bittersweet” with his victory and John McCain’s loss.

John Kline secured an island of Republican stability in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District by winning his fourth term in the U.S. House even as Democrats tipped the state’s presidential vote in their favor.

Former Watertown Mayor Steve Sarvi waged a feisty challenge to Kline as the candidate for both the Democratic and Independence parties. But Kline’s 57-43 percent victory gave him a far more comfortable margin than the other two Republicans who won U.S. House seats in Minnesota.

Kline called election night “bittersweet” as he took the podium at the Minnesota GOP gathering in Bloomington to declare victory just after Democratic Sen. Barack Obama was proclaimed winner of the presidential race.

Democrats also expanded their majorities in Congress, pushing solid conservatives like Kline into a shrunken minority.

Kline signaled in his victory speech that he will follow his ramrod-straight conservative line nevertheless: “I will always cast my vote for what’s right even if it’s not popular.”

Sarvi said in a concession statement, “This is not the outcome we wanted, but … we helped hold John Kline accountable for his record in Congress.” Without mentioning Obama’s name, he said, “I’ll be working as hard as I can alongside those who have been elected tonight to make sure our country gets the change it needs.”

If anything could have pushed Sarvi over the top, it would have been a ride on Obama’s coattails. But that force didn’t materialize decisively in Minnesota’s U.S. House races where Republicans held onto all three of the seats they were defending.

Former Watertown Mayor Steve Sarvi was outspent 2 to 1 in a battle of military veterans.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Former Watertown Mayor Steve Sarvi was outspent 2 to 1 in a battle of military veterans.

Sarvi, 43, was one of several Iraq War veterans around the country who came home determined to run for political office. In his concession statement, he said: “I could not have imagined two years ago, when I spent an Election Night in the Iraqi desert, that tonight I’d be thanking people for working on my campaign.”

He was an active-duty U.S. Army captain before he joined the Minnesota Army National Guard, and he stepped down from his post as mayor of Watertown in 2005 to serve in Iraq.

Unlike some other veteran-candidates, though, Sarvi had pitted his service against the distinguished record of a decorated Marine. Kline, 61, was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, and he served as a military aide to presidents Carter and Reagan, with responsibility for carrying the “nuclear football,” the package containing emergency security information.

The Iraq war and veterans issues defined key divisions in the race. Kline has supported the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the war and rejected calls for setting a withdrawal date. Sarvi advocated starting a process immediately to “responsibly withdraw.”

Beyond the considerable benefits of incumbency and name recognition, Kline was able to outspend Sarvi by better than 2-to-1. As of Oct. 15, Kline had raised $1,369,574 to Sarvi’s $483,466, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The bulk of Kline’s backing came from the business and financial services sectors. Sarvi relied largely on labor and individual contributions.

Kline’s greatest advantage, though, came from political nature of the district: bedrock conservative. Minnesota’s 2nd takes in the southern Twin Cities suburbs and reaches into farmland further south. After wresting the seat from Democrat Bill Luther in 2002, Kline won re-election by more than 16-point margins in 2004 and 2006.

In the House, Kline serves on the Armed Services and the Education and Labor committees. His voting record was rated as the most conservative in the Minnesota delegation by the National Journal’s Composite Conservative Score for votes cast in 2007.

Sharon Schmickle writes about national and foreign affairs and science. She can be reached at sschmickle [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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