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GOP uniting behind victorious Allen Quist after bruising 1st District fight

His opponent, Mike Parry, pledged support in efforts to defeat incumbent Congressman Tim Walz.

Allen Quist speaking during a Faribault town hall meeting earlier in the campaign.

Former state Rep. Allen Quist will challenge three-term Democratic Congressman Tim Walz after defeating state Sen. Mike Parry in a controversial and contentious primary race in Minnesota’s 1st District.   

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Quist had 54 percent of the vote to Parry’s 46 percent.

“Obviously, [I’m] very happy to have been successful, but also I sense very much the responsibility that’s been placed on my shoulders as a candidate,” Quist said in an interview shortly after receiving a congratulatory call from Parry Tuesday night. “That’s very serious business. The weight of that responsibility tempers the happiness.”

With the primary election settled, Parry supporters and other Republicans are returning to the fold. First District Republicans plan to hold a formal endorsing convention on Saturday in Mankato to put their weight behind Quist, who invited Parry to be part of the campaign.

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The two candidates deadlocked at their late-April endorsing convention after 23 ballots and 14 hours of campaigning.

“We’re the party that’s all about grass-roots effort and grass-roots activism, and we’re going to get behind Allen,” First District GOP Chairman Dave Kruse said shortly after the race was called.

Parry, meanwhile, shifted his message away from his own campaign and toward the common GOP goal of ousting Walz, a moderate Democrat who has served since 2006.

“Whatever we have to do we have to do to make sure we have a congressman that is a leader. Tim Walz has not shown any leadership whatsoever,” Parry said. “[Voters] made their choice, and now it’s time for all the Republicans to … rally around Allen and make sure we do whatever we can to make sure he’s the next congressman.”

Parry also criticized Walz for his role on the House Agriculture Committee, which was a large focus of his campaign.

Quist, a former gubernatorial candidate and state representative, said he would focus on his message of deficit reduction and fiscal conservatism.

Rep. Tim Walz
Rep. Tim Walz

Parry said his former opponent could be considered an underdog on the “money side” of the race against Walz, but Quist pointed to his primary victory as a measure of political viability in November.

Some experts don’t see it that way.

“It certainly possible that Walz could be defeated, but given his popularity and his previous margins running for re-election, he definitely has an advantage going into November – there’s just no doubt about that,” said Kathryn Pearson, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.

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Walz beat his Republican opponent by 5 points with 49 percent of the vote in “the tidal wave election” of 2010, and by roughly 30 points in 2008. He had more than $800,000 on hand, as of July 25, to Quist’s $118,000.

The Walz campaign released a short statement congratulating Quist on his victory, saying the congressman “is looking forward to a vigorous debate on the issues that matter most to southern Minnesotans.”

It’s likely the candidates will engage in at least three debates before the election, and Quist said he has three advertisements ready to highlight his positions on deficit reduction.

Despite Republican unity statements Tuesday night, the Quist-Parry primary campaign was one of the most inflammatory in the state.

Parry dredged up comments from 1994 when Quist said men had a “genetic predisposition” to lead a household. He also attacked Quist for a visit to a sex shop that Quist described as research about activities there.

A week before the primary, Parry also made headlines with comments criticizing Gov. Mark Dayton.

“The campaign was not exactly what I would have chosen it to be, but that’s history and now we go on,” Quist said.

Heather LaMarre, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said Parry’s statements were most likely a campaign strategy meant to grab free media attention. Quist’s largely self-funded campaign had $260,000 — more than double Parry’s efforts.  

“This is sort of one of those PR times where it’s like, ‘It doesn’t matter what you say about me, just spell my name right,’ ” LaMarre said.

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But going into November, the GOP won’t have to worry about that infighting anymore.

“[Quist] understands — he gets it,” Parry said. “He knows what has to be done to get the economy turned around … unlike our current congressman.”