ROSEMOUNT, Minn. (AP) — A freshman state legislator joined a Republican field seeking a U.S. Senate seat Thursday, setting his sights on a robust Minnesota network for presidential candidate Ron Paul as a possible route to the party nomination.
State Rep. Kurt Bills announced his campaign on a busy intersection in Rosemount, just up the street from a high school where he teaches an early morning economics course before heading to the state Capitol each day. The former city council member said he’d make the nation’s debt and deficit the focus of his campaign, though he wouldn’t offer hints of how he’d solve it.
“Now I’ll ask Minnesotans to send me 1,100 miles east to bring Econ 101 to Washington,” Bills said with family members and supporters at his side.
Bills, a vocal supporter of Texas Rep. Paul, is the third serious competitor for the GOP nod. Former state Rep. Dan Severson and Iraq war veteran Pete Hegseth are also in pursuit of a party endorsement that will be decided in May; all three say they won’t run in a summer primary without the endorsement. Frequent GOP candidates Bob Carney, Harold Shudlick and Jack Shepard are also in the race.
The winner will take on incumbent Democrat Amy Klobuchar, a first-term senator with consistently high approval ratings and a huge fundraising advantage.
Bills has libertarian leanings, and gained notice last year for legislation that would allow people to use gold and silver coins as legal tender in Minnesota.
He campaigned with Paul before the state’s February precinct caucuses. Paul finished second to Rick Santorum in Minnesota’s straw ballot with 27 percent of the vote, and many of his backers are expected to become state convention delegates.
“We’d love to tap into that,” Bills said. He wouldn’t say whether he has sought Paul’s assistance in building support or raising money.
At his kickoff, Bills railed against the size of federal entitlement programs and the national debt, arguing Klobuchar hasn’t done enough to address them. He said his votes in favor of last summer’s state budget fix, which relied on additional aid delays to schools and borrowing against a tobacco settlement, were different because Minnesota is constitutionally obligated to have a balanced budget.
“Debt can be managed and that will be part of the conversation we have to have,” he told reporters before an aide ushered him away. Bills said he had appointments to keep at the Capitol.
Klobuchar has largely steered clear of the race to determine her opponent. A statement issued by her spokesman Justin Buoen, largely echoed another issued by her campaign when Hegseth entered the race last week.
“Senator Klobuchar has supported bipartisan solutions to reduce debt in a balanced way while fighting for policies that support economic growth. She will continue to put Minnesota first regardless of her opponent,” Buoen said.
Bills has at least one legislative endorsement in his pocket. Rep. Keith Downey, a leading conservative in the House, said Bills is “qualitatively different” than the other GOP candidates.
“This is a guy who knows what’s on the hearts and minds of Minnesotans,” Downey said.
Bills, 42, is married with four children. He and his wife, Cindy, own a home daycare.
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