- For those who aren't familiar with the area, it needs to be said that SD41 is a dog's breakfast of a district (PDF link) and one that's highly unfavorable for Republicans. It contains all of Columbia Heights and Hilltop, which are typically about 70% DFL, all of St. Anthony (purplish, at best) and New Brighton (also purplish), Fridley (majority DFL) and part of Spring Lake Park (purplish). It's tough territory to win and the politicians who dominate the district are from Columbia Heights. It's tough sledding for the GOP and the statewide candidates who came through our convention with the understanding that they wouldn't win SD41. Although it wasn't said explicitly, what the statewide candidates are hoping is that the Republican organization in our district can win enough votes to keep things close and avoid a 70-30 DFL victory margin in the parts of the district that aren't Columbia Heights.
- Having said that, we do have candidates who are willing to run for the two house seats, and one of them is potentially very good. The candidate for 41A, the north half of the district, is Jeff Phillips, and he is an impressive guy. He's a law student at the University of Minnesota and has been working as a clerk for the Institute for Justice, who are definitely good guys in the realm of property rights and constitutional jurisprudence. He made a very favorable impression with the delegation and intellectually he'll have no trouble being on stage against the incumbent, Connie Bernardy. We can safely assume that Bernardy, who is essentially a rubber stamp for Education Minnesota, will be doing her level best to avoid any opportunity for a direct comparison.
- The candidate for 41B is Camden Pike, a young (only 26) man who has been active in party politics in the area. Camden is a bright guy and tends to be a bit of a libertarian. He's not as polished as Phillips, but he's willing to work hard and I think he'll be fairly effective at retail politics. His opponent, Carolyn Laine, is a loyal DFL foot soldier who hasn't done much of anything in the legislature, but because she's from Columbia Heights and has DFL after her name, she's not required to do much other than vote the party line. Camden has a tough row to hoe.
- What little drama there was at the convention came from the continuing antics of Tim Utz, who ran against Laine under the Republican banner a few cycles back, did poorly, became bitter with the GOP, and has been flying under the Constitution Party banner ever since. He's gained some notice in the area because he's fond of cruising around in a lime sherbet green school bus, Paul Wellstone style. He's disavowed the Republican Party, but continues to show up at GOP events and causes mischief, as he did today, skulking about in the lobby outside the convention itself. He has a fairly small band of acolytes who continue to do the hokey-pokey with the local GOP organization; a few of them came to the BPOU caucus in February and got elected as delegates. After Utz was not allowed to speak today, they tried to derail a formal endorsement of Pike for the 41B seat, explaining how it would be better for Pike if he didn't have the Republican label attached to his campaign; it was a touching gesture, really. Their efforts ultimately went nowhere, of course, but Utz is going to remain an issue because he's fond of playing the "true conservative" music. If he follows his typical pattern, he'll now be going around the district talking about how Republicans are repressing him, or something. He'll then go to the Constitution Party convention, which can typically be held in a booth at the IHOP on Stinson Boulevard. He's certainly going to run again, try to present himself as the true conservative in the race, and will do his best to drain votes away from the Republican candidate. It's too bad, but it's a free country and he's got every right to be a counterproductive gadfly. I'm certain that Carolyn Laine and the rest of the Columbia Heights DFL appart appreciates Utz's efforts, though.
- We got a look at least one potential GOP challenger to Betty McCollum for Senate, Sharna Wahlgren, who is a patent lawyer for a large Minneapolis firm. She's much like previous McCollum challengers Theresa Collett and Ed Matthews -- exceptionally smart, very polished and, like Collett and Matthews, clearly superior to McCollum. Assuming Wahlgren gets the nod, she'll be ignored and denied an opportunity to have any visibility, let alone a side-by-side comparison. I hope it's different this time, but I'm not ready to get my hopes up yet. I suspect the only way McCollum will ever be ousted is if some ambitious Ramsey County DFLer gets tired of waiting for Betty to leave and finally decides to primary her. John Choi, pick up the white courtesy phone....
We also got a look at a number of governor and senate candidates. I'll get to that tomorrow.