ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) —Minnesota Republicans on Friday chose a high school economics teacher who said he supports deep cuts to government spending to challenge U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in November.
Kurt Bills, a first-term state representative and teacher at Rosemount High School, said his teaching experience would help him connect with voters on economic issues. Bills vowed to make “Econ 101″ the focus of his campaign and warned of the dangers of growing federal debt, though he offered few initial specifics on his economic proposals.
Bills handily clinched the party endorsement to take on Klobuchar, a popular Democratic incumbent who is seeking her second term and is widely viewed as a formidable opponent.
“Politically, the experts say Amy Klobuchar is unbeatable, she’s a nice person, and have you tried her hot dish recipe?” Bills said. “That’s all well and good, but Minnesota isn’t electing Miss Congeniality this November.”
Bills beat out former state Rep. Dan Severson and military veteran and activist Pete Hegseth after just two ballots during the GOP convention at the St. Cloud Civic Center. Bills assembled a coalition that included backers of insurgent Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and support from a big chunk of his colleagues in the state Legislature.
Both Severson and Hegseth had pledged to abide by the party’s endorsement and not run in the August primary without it. That sets a clear path for Bills, who said he would campaign across the state in a dark blue school bus with his name painted on the side.
Bills and his wife, Cindy, have four children and live in Rosemount, a suburb south St. Paul. They own a licensed home day care that she runs.
“It’s pretty obvious I’m the underdog,” Bills wrote in a letter distributed to convention delegates. He promised a “non-traditional” campaign that would recall past Minnesota politicians including Paul Wellstone and Jesse Ventura. He criticized Klobuchar as a “rubber stamp” for President Barack Obama and other Washington Democrats.
“Amy has always put Minnesota first and has a strong record of standing up for our state and getting things done,” Justin Bouen, Klobuchar’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “That’s what she will continue to do.”
As delegates began to prepare for endorsement, Bills’ Republican opponents attempted to raise concerns about his close ties to Ron Paul. The Texas congressman is no longer actively campaigning, but he is mounting a challenge to presumed nominee Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in August. Paul’s backers were out in force at the Minnesota convention, but some longtime Republicans are uncomfortable with his libertarian views.
“Do the political math. Kurt Bills equals Ron Paul,” read a flier distributed by the Hegseth campaign. The Severson camp passed out a handout critical of Bills’ foreign policy views, which echo Paul’s frequent calls to drastically reduce defense spending and decrease U.S. military entanglements overseas.
“We don’t run against Democrats to make a point. We run against Democrats to win,” Hegseth said in his nomination speech, echoing criticism from other Republicans that swing voters would be put off by Paul’s views. Bills won a Paul endorsement for his Senate campaign, and has largely echoed his political beliefs. Paul spoke at the state convention, and Bills said he would continue to back Paul’s presidential bid until Romney officially seized the nomination.
“I backed Kurt Bills because he’s got a lot of the same values as Ron Paul,” said Don Crews, a convention delegate from Duluth. Crews said he’s new to Republican politics and got involved after becoming interested in Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“I like that Bills is like Ron Paul, because that’s the direction I want the party to go,” Crews said.
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