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Sorting through the rhetoric

Published 10:26am Monday, August 13, 2012

ALBERT LEA — It has been a wild week in the Republican primary race in Minnesota’s First Congressional District.

State Sen. Mike Parry’s allegations that he saw Gov. Mark Dayton take 15 or 16 pills during a negotiating session were widely reported. That may have detracted from Parry’s message that his opponent, former state Rep. Allen Quist, is too controversial to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in the general election.

Indeed, much of the race has been about the rhetoric. But the two Republicans also have contrasting views on the issues, from their take on how to balance the federal budget to the farm bill.

Quist, of St. Peter,is a farmer and retired school teacher, who has run successfully for the state House and failed in two bids for governor and one for Congress. But he said he couldn’t be happier with his latest campaign and thinks that his message is resonating with voters this time.

Among Quist’s priorities are federal spending caps that would force lawmakers to cut spending and balance the federal budget. He said he would tackle the nation’s biggest issue head-on in a way Parry is not.

Quist said that makes him the best choice for Republicans against Walz.

“You don’t win elections by not engaging in a debate in a forceful, clear way. I do that. He doesn’t,” Quist said of Parry. “So it’s really, I would say, a no-brainer that I have what it takes to run a good campaign against Mr. Walz. He doesn’t.”

Parry, a retired police officer who owns a pizza shop in Waseca, said he too strongly supports balancing the federal budget. Like Quist, Parry said the House Republican plan outlined by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin takes too long to stem the flow of red ink. But Parry said he’s not sure the budget can be balanced in five years, as Quist proposes.

Parry insists Quist would have no chance of winning a general election because of controversial things he has said and done. Among other things, the Parry campaign has publicized Quist statements from the mid-1990s about men being genetically predisposed to be heads of households.

Parry said even if Quist were to make it to Washington, he is too polarizing a figure to build the kind of coalition it will take to address the budget imbalance.

“Yes we need to balance the budget, but you better be able to be a person that can build a group of the conservatives on both sides of the aisle, because if you can’t do that, one person cannot balance that budget,” Parry said.

Farming drives much of the economy of the First District, making the farm bill recently passed by the Senate a hot topic. Parry has urged Congress to pass the bill, which cuts federal spending on agriculture by $23 billion, including $16 billion for conservation and food programs. Quist said the bill is too expensive, and that he’d vote no.

As for Parry’s contention Quist is too controversial to get elected, Quist counters that Parry has his own record of questionable statements including a tweet in which Parry called President Obama a “power hungry arrogant black man” a couple of years ago.

In alleging that he saw Dayton take pills, Parry called the governor “scary.” Dayton, and other Republicans, said the allegation wasn’t true.

Steve Perkins, who has been active in First District Republican politics for a long time, predicts southern Minnesota Republicans will unite around the primary winner. He said Parry and Quist share similar positions on the major issues and that Republicans are eager to vote against Walz.

“I just do not see this as being immensely divisive. I don’t see a lot of people out there saying, ‘Boy, if so and so gets this, I’m going to sit this out,’ “ Perkins said. “Like I say, the president has unified Republicans more than Republicans could have every unified themselves and Congressman Walz has helped that by being so close to the president.”

At the Freeborn County Fair in Albert Lea, GOP volunteer Katie Jacobsen said she’s disappointed that the party needs a primary to settle on a candidate to face Walz. Jacobsen thinks Republicans lost an opportunity to focus on the Democrat.

Without a primary, she said, the party’s candidate “would have been able to campaign a little bit more.”

Jacobsen was a delegate to the First Congressional District Republican Convention in April where after 23 rounds of balloting she and the others deadlocked on the endorsement. She won’t say who she’s supporting.

As for who she thinks is going to win on Tuesday, Jacobsen points to the divided convention as evidence enough that the primary outcome is too close to call.

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