ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Former state Rep. Allen Quist made a political comeback Tuesday, beating state Sen. Mike Parry in the Republican primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in southern Minnesota.
With most precincts reporting, Quist had 54 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Parry. The win capped a raucous primary contest that saw the two Republicans tearing into each other after trading over-the-top comments. The 1st District, with many rural areas but also cities including Rochester, Mankato and Winona, has been a political swing area; but Democrat Walz has built a formidable base of support.
Asked if he was the underdog, Quist said: “It’ll be billed that way. But we don’t see it that way.” He pointed out that Walz got 49 percent of the vote in a three-way race in 2010, and that this year’s contest would be a two-way matchup.
Quist said balancing the federal budget would be his campaign’s chief message.
The other main event in Tuesday’s primary was a battle between three Democrats in northeastern Minnesota’s 8th District, vying to challenge GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack. With more than half of precincts reporting, the race between Rick Nolan, Tarryl Clark and Jeff Anderson was still too close to call.
In other primary action, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Kurt Bills breezed to easy primary victories in the U.S. Senate race, setting up a general election contest between the Democratic incumbent and a Republican challenger new to statewide politics.
Klobuchar had only token opposition. Bills, a first-term state representative and high school teacher who carried the GOP’s endorsement, rolled past two rivals.
In other House races, Reps. Erik Paulsen, Michele Bachmann, John Kline, Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum easily staved off primary challengers. In McCollum’s St. Paul-area district, businessman Tony Hernandez won the GOP primary to take her on.
Quist, who served in the state House in the 1980s, returned to the political stage after losing the 1994 Republican primary for governor to incumbent Arne Carlson, despite winning the party endorsement that year. The Parry campaign trotted out some of his past controversial statements, including a 1994 interview where he said men had a “genetic predisposition” to lead households.
But Parry’s run was rocky, too. The week before the election, he was sharply criticized after accusing Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, of popping pills in a meeting.
In the 8th District Democratic contest, Nolan, a former congressman, had about 40 percent of the vote with 71 percent of precincts reporting. Clark, a former state senator, was second at 33 percent, while former Duluth councilman Anderson had about 28 percent.
Democrats saw a chance to win back a seat they didn’t think they would lose two years ago, when Cravaack upset longtime Rep. Jim Oberstar in what the party sees as its turf. Democrats have criticized Cravaack after his family relocated to New Hampshire.
But, while the three Democrats vying for the seat differ little on policy issues, Clark and Nolan turned up the negativity as their race came down to the wire. Clark ran a TV ad last week that accused Nolan of “blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars” as head of the Minnesota World Trade Center more than two decades ago. Nolan struck back, calling her ad “gutter politics.” Anderson’s campaign hoped to benefit from voters turned off by the attacks.
Nolan, who served in Congress from 1974 to 1981, was looking for a political comeback but also battling perceptions that he was too similar to Oberstar. Clark enjoyed a large fundraising advantage, but also a potential vulnerability in accusations of carpetbagging after she moved to the region not long after she lost to Bachmann in a different congressional district.
The House and Senate races weren’t alone on the ballot. Forty-four legislative primary races were under way, including three western suburban Twin Cities districts where Republican incumbents faced conservative challengers. One of those, state Rep. Steve Smith, was an early casualty in the evening, falling to tea party challenger Cindy Pugh.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie predicted turnout of less than 15 percent of eligible voters, and without the crowds of November, the voting process itself unfolded smoothly statewide.
It’s only the second time Minnesota has held its primary election in August since moving it up from September to give military and overseas voters more time to vote in the general election. But it’s the first since the state redrew its congressional and legislative district boundaries to reflect population shifts.
Also up were two Minnesota Supreme Court races, where the top two vote-getters will advance to the November election. Two incumbents, Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea and Justice David Stras, both advanced in their races.
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