ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Short on time and in need of mountains of money, war veteran Pete Hegseth opened a GOP campaign Thursday to unseat Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar in a race that’s low on the radar of national Republicans.
His entrance comes about 2½ months before Republicans settle on a candidate at their state convention, leaving him little time to amass support from party insiders and raise the millions it would take to topple Klobuchar come November.
Hegseth, an Army National Guard captain recently back from a deployment to Afghanistan, didn’t flinch at the challenge he faces in his first try for public office.
“Nothing worth doing is easy. And nothing in life has perfect timing,” Hegseth said.
At 31, Hegseth is a year older than the minimal constitutional requirement for Senate eligibility. But he said neither age nor prior political service should matter.
“A lot of Minnesotans are kind of sick of the folks that have run for office their entire life and have been career politicians and have spent their entire life maneuvering themselves to higher office,” he said at a state Capitol news conference.
Hegseth has a tiny operation for now, but his inner circle includes two campaign operatives who helped Republican Chip Cravaack upset Democratic stalwart Jim Oberstar in a 2010 congressional race. Cravaack was massively outspent and given little chance.
Klobuchar has a multimillion-dollar campaign stockpile and a sturdy approval rating. And though the GOP race shrunk this week, Hegseth must run against former state Rep. Dan Severson, an Air Force veteran touting his own military past.
“There’s the initial ‘wow’ effect. Some of the things he’s got are admirable,” Severson said of Hegseth. “But in the long run, I think the delegates will go for the whole record of experience and proven conservative principles, which I believe my background is.”
Severson has been courting potential GOP convention delegates since last spring and was the party’s nominee for secretary of state in 2010.
Hegseth, a native of suburban Forest Lake, was sent abroad three times with the Guard. He was part of a security platoon at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, was an infantryman in Iraq and did counterinsurgency instruction in Afghanistan. He returned to Minnesota a couple of weeks ago.
Between his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Hegseth served in a $110,000-a-year role as executive director of Vets for Freedom, a national group that advocated for President George W. Bush’s Iraq surge.
At Thursday’s news conference, he weighed in on recent U.S. apology after copies of the Quran were burned on a military base in Afghanistan. Since the burning, there have been retaliatory killings of U.S. soldiers and strong criticism over the apology by Republican presidential candidates.
Hegseth said he didn’t believe an apology was necessary but wouldn’t second-guess decisions made by commanders on the ground.
“They’re looking out for the best interest of the troops in harm’s way. They understand the sensitivity within Islam of the Quran and how important it is,” he said.
Severson took a harder line, echoing the criticism.
“It undermines our morale. It undermines our ability to do the job,” he said. “It’s war. This is not a political platform or a political agenda.”
Former state GOP chairman Ron Carey, who is so far neutral, said Hegseth’s national connections present opportunities in a race that the national party has shown no indications of investing heavily in.
“It’s an uphill battle raising money to take on Senator Klobuchar when she is perceived to be a strong incumbent,” Carey said. “Someone like Pete might open up cash from sources the current candidates haven’t been able to tap into.”
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