Money is pouring into some of the state’s most competitive legislative races as DFLers and Republicans battle for control of the Legislature.
Without a race for governor or other statewide offices on the ballot this year, more money and attention is being focused on battleground legislative districts.
Consider state Rep. Jim Knoblach’s race. After facing the most expensive legislative race in state history in 2014, the St. Cloud Republican anticipates he’ll need just as much or more money this election season.
Knoblach has raised $84,398 since January 2015, according to the latest state campaign finance records.
That’s nearly double what his opponent, DFLer Zachary Dorholt, raised during the same period.
“I expect it’ll be another competitive race, and I still expect to be raising more money,” said Knoblach.
Knoblach’s last election, also against Dorholt, cost nearly $1 million, most of that from outside groups not affiliated with either campaign. Knoblach won by just 69 votes.
The battle for the Capitol is particularly intense this year, as all 201 legislative seats are on the ballot. Republicans are trying to hold control of the House and chip away at the DFL majority in the Senate.
Republicans spent big in the last election cycle to flip the Minnesota House from DFL control, but DFLers are hoping the presidential race will cause a surge of voter interest and sweep them into power in the House.
Another candidate who’s raised substantial sums is Republican Dario Arthur Anselmo, who’s trying to unseat incumbent DFL Rep. Ron Erhardt in Edina.
Anselmo has taken in $70,270 in the last year and a half. He said he’s been helped by knowing a lot of people in business and education.
As in the St. Cloud race, this will be a rematch of a close 2014 race. Anselmo said he intends to raise about $120,000 for the election, one-fifth more than what he took in during the last cycle. He hopes that will be enough to pick up an additional 1,500 voters he believes he needs to win.
“We’ll hit them by air, land and sea,” he said, referring to plans to spend money on cable TV, internet advertising and social media.
Erhardt pointed out that while Anselmo had raised more money, he has more in the bank: $43,850 on hand (a small edge over Anselmo). He’s lining up more fundraising events, including one in August with Garrison Keillor.
DFLer Matt Little of Lakeville has raised $79,721 in the last year and a half in his bid to replace retiring GOP Sen. Dave Thompson.
More than a quarter of his funds came through online contributions, he said, “so that’s been a huge help to us.”
He’s running against Republican Tim Pitcher, who has raised only $41,216.
The level of money flowing into some of the races has forced novice candidates to polish their fundraising skills.
“I went my entire adult life without asking anybody for a single dollar, so fundraising, calling people and asking them to donate, was initially kind of difficult for me, but I definitely got over it,” Pitcher said.
One of the biggest fundraisers has been Ilhan Omar, who’s locked in a three-way DFL primary for the Minneapolis seat held by longtime Rep. Phyllis Kahn.
Omar has raised $72,917 during that period, significantly outpacing Kahn and Mohamud Noor.
Omar’s campaign manager, Daniel Cox, said her success in fundraising came from her grass roots approach, resulting in many small donations from people who normally did not donate to political campaigns. He said Omar still has more fundraisers coming up, “but our biggest priority is talking to the people who are going to make this decision.”
The big fundraising totals in those districts mean voters can expect a lot of contact from candidates, in person or otherwise.
Dorholt said he still remembers the weekend in 2014 when voters in his district received 12 mailers in one weekend, mostly from outside organizations.
“I’m a counselor at a community-based mental health center,” said Dorholt, who raised $44,353 in the last year and a half. “I don’t have a large base of wealthy donors.”
He’s getting help from a powerhouse DFL fundraiser and organizer.
House Deputy Minority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, isn’t facing a competitive race. But she has used some of her money to contribute to the House DFL caucus and plans to campaign on behalf of Dorholt and other candidates in tough races.
“I’m doing everything I can to put us in a position to take back the majority,” Murphy said.
Maya Rao • 651-925-5043