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DFL, GOP already recruiting candidates, despite all the uncertainties of redistricting

Party chairs are finding a lot of enthusiasm among potential candidates, but they concede planning is complicated until new boundaries are drawn.

This is the time of year that state party leaders are out recruiting candidates for the next election cycle.

But before those 2012 elections are held, Minnesota’s political map will be redrawn by the courts. Presumably, by the time the courts have completed that task, by Feb. 21, virtually every Congressional district, each of the state’s 67 Senate districts and 134 House districts will change, some a bit, some fairly dramatically.

How, then, do the parties go about the business of recruitment?

So many unknown factors
“It’s a crapshoot,” said Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton. “Unfortunately, it’s fraught with unknowns. The one certainty we’re dealing with is that the lines will change, especially in the outer suburbs where there’s so much growth.”

Still, recruitment goes on in the two major parties.

Ken Martin
Ken Martin

“We encourage people to jump in now with both feet and run,” said DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin. “Ultimately, if you don’t have a district, well, that’s a tough break.”

This situation isn’t unusual because every 10 years there’s the U.S. Census, which requires redrawing the boundaries to ensure equal-size districts.

The Legislature has the authority to create redistricting maps based on the new census data. But if the governor won’t sign off on the work of the Legislature, redistricting ends up in the hands of the courts.

This year’s Republican legislative majority drew maps that had ZERO support from DFLers. Gov. Mark Dayton, who said he’d only sign off on a plan that had bipartisan support, vetoed the Republican map.

The courts now have a Feb. 21 deadline for creating the maps. Redistricting hearings will be held around the state beginning in October. The five-judge redistricting panel, which was appointed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, is to be headed by Wilhelmina Wright, a state Court of Appeals judge.

Making things all the juicier for Minnesotans is the status of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, given her presidential run.

6th District faces big changes
Is she in? Is she out? And what will her 6th District seat look like after redistricting?

For starters, the district boundaries will change considerably.

The DFL’s Martin points out that because of growth patterns, that district will have to lose 100,000 people, presumably from the western edge. Hunks of that population likely will end up in the 7th District, perhaps even the 8th.

Beyond that, Bachmann has been far from clear about her own plans.

For the moment, she has said, she’s running for president, putting aside her congressional campaign apparatus.

Even assuming she does well in Iowa, there seems to be a belief among many Republicans that her campaign eventually will fizzle and fade away.

If that does happen, Sutton believes “there still will be plenty of time for her to pivot and run for her congressional seat.”

Even if she doesn’t run again — or if she actually becomes the Republican presidential nominee — Sutton says Republicans have “a strong bench” in the district. He names such people as Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Majority Leader Matt Dean as potential Bachmann replacements.

For potential DFL candidates, the 6th presents problems on two fronts: the shape of the district, which will change, and Bachmann.

If it were an open race with no incumbent, there are a number of DFLers, who Martin described as top notch, eager to run. But if she’s running, enthusiasm wanes. After all, Bachmann, a fundraising machine, has been able to handle any obstacles in her path, including the obstacles she’s created with her own remarks.

And then there’s that nagging question about the eventual shape of the 6th. Some candidates are less than excited about investing time, energy and money only to find out that the final boundaries put their residence outside the district.

8th District looking messy, too
Republicans already have the outside-the-district problem with one of their own, 8th District Rep. Chip Cravaack, whose family is moving to New Hampshire.

To date, Cravaack has insisted he’ll keep a home in what is now the 8th and even show up there on Saturdays.

Tony Sutton
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Tony Sutton

Sutton say Cravaack can pull it off and win, no matter where his kitchen table is. Voters, he says, appreciate the issues of modern families, headed by two career-oriented people. (Cravaack’s spouse got a job promotion that moved her to Boston.)

But Cravaack, the classic out-of-nowhere candidate, already was target No. 1 for DFLers, who still are astounded a Republican grabbed what they regard as “their seat.”

On the other hand, the DFL could have a “kitchen-table” problem of its own in the 8th.

The biggest DFL name in that race is former state Sen. Tarryl Clark, who moved, part-time at least, out of her 6th District home to Duluth for the chance to run against Cravaack. Unlike Cravaack, she already has competition for endorsement in the 8th and some DFL insiders still believe the “real” DFL candidate has yet to emerge.

But imagine a Clark-Cravaack race: It could boil down to “my kitchen table is closer to the 8th than yours.”

But there’s something else at play for DFLers in the 8th and around the state, Martin believes. Democrats in 2010 elections stayed home, upset by the inability of the Democratic-controlled Congress and President Obama to reinvigorate more quickly the economy.

Democrats now understand, Martin said, the price they paid for staying home.

For the most part, Sutton sounds more ebullient than Martin. The Republican message, he says confidently, is “ascending.” Demographics also give Sutton confidence, given that there will be more suburban and ex-urban legislative seats being contested than ever before.

U.S. Senate race slow to take shape
The one area where he doesn’t have great confidence is the U.S. Senate race, where so far Sen. Amy Klobuchar is virtually uncontested.

Sutton promises that will change. He says that the one announced Republican candidate, former Rep. Dan Severson, who so far has managed to raise almost no money, understands that he has to “kick things up.”

Sutton hints that other Republicans may be on the verge of jumping in. By no means, Sutton said, will Republicans give Klobuchar a free pass.

Expect Republicans to start serious campaigning against Klobuchar at the Minnesota State Fair, where the party will “spice things up” by holding a straw poll for Republican presidential candidates.

Corndogs, mini-doughnuts and Bachman versus Tim Pawlenty. Who could ask for anything more?

But back to those state legislative races.

Both Sutton and Martin claim that the gridlock in both St. Paul and Washington has not discouraged “good people” from wanting to run for the Legislature. Quite the contrary.

“It’s actually helping,” said Martin. “People are fed up. They believe they have something to offer.”

But Martin does have concerns about the impact the recent local and national political train wrecks will have on younger generations.

“We’re sending an awful message to young people,” Martin said, adding that he’s concerned young people might be turned off entirely by politics.

Mark Jenkins
Mark Jenkins

Finally, there’s Minnesota’s Independence Party. Gridlock has handed the IP advocates a message on a big silver platter. But the party still has no money — and no name candidates. In addition, Mark Jenkins is a rookie as the party’s chairman.

Jenkins, though, sees the opportunity ahead as a glass half-empty and half-full.

The empty part is redistricting.

“We have good people who are interested in running, but they want to see what the districts are going to be and who they’d be running against,” said Jenkins.

What makes it half-full?

“The fiasco we had in St. Paul,”Jenkins said. “We have a lot of people totally disgusted by what they saw. They want to step forward.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.