Paulsen announces congressional bid, invokes Ramstad and Frenzel

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Republican state Rep. Erik Paulsen made his bid official yesterday to succeed former boss Jim Ramstad in Congress, showering praise upon Ramstad and his predecessor, Bill Frenzel.

In a crowded room at Scenic Heights Elementary School in Minnetonka, Paulsen decried a government he described as too slow for today’s challenges and said he would bring his “unique talents” to bear on bringing change to Washington. While his speech was littered with standard Republican fare — advocating for “pro-growth” economic policies, “small” and “accountable” government and a generalized opposition to raising taxes — the theme of achieving change was an interesting component of his speech. After 12 years of a Republican majority in Congress and almost eight years of the Bush White House, it has been mainly Democrats seizing the mantle of “change” in their campaign rhetoric.

Paulsen can afford to strike a civil, bipartisan tone: with just a week to go before precinct caucuses, he has all but locked up the Republican nomination for the 3rd District seat, with no credible opposition and more than $400,000 raised for his campaign. The crowded room contained numerous past and current Republican officials and candidates: Education Commissioner Alice Seagren, former Gov. Al Quie, numerous state senators and representatives, and many others.

State Rep. Neil Peterson, R-Edina, said that Paulsen has struck a more overtly conservative tone than Ramstad has; Peterson declined to be interviewed on tape.

In a sign of the anticipated heavy focus on the race, DFL Chair Brian Melendez said in a statement that “everything in Paulsen’s record tells us that in Washington, he will be part and parcel of the borrow-and-spend, stay-the-course Bush politics that have left America in recession and quagmire.” Indeed, the seat is seen as a prime pickup opportunity both for the DFL here at home and the Democratic Party nationally, regularly appearing on The Washington Post’s “The Fix” (as high as sixth-most likely seat in the nation to switch parties as recently as last week).

The DFL field includes three candidates, all seeking to prove their progressive stripes while assuring voters and activists they can win in the supremely moderate 3rd: state Sen. Terri Bonoff, Mayor Jim Hovland of Edina and attorney/Iraq vet Ashwin Madia.

There are differing opinions on how noncompetitive endorsement and primary races differ from competitive ones — some say competition is a good thing, and helps the eventual nominee sharpen his or her rhetoric and debating skills for the general election, while others say having more time to raise money and gather support from the base is the way to go. Although all signs point to the DFL contest being decided by convention in May, it would appear that for the next several months, we’ll be able to compare the two approaches up close and personally.