Parties, candidates assess reshaped Cottage Grove-area legislative race after Rep. Kriesel exitDemocrats said Kriesel’s move means the DFL has a better chance at winning back a seat it long held, while Republicans were hustling to find a strong candidate to try to retain the seat in the Nov. 6 election.
Rep. John Kriesel’s decision not to run for the House this fall altered the campaign landscape.
Democrats said Kriesel’s move means the DFL has a better chance at winning back a seat it long held, while Republicans were hustling to find a strong candidate to try to retain the seat in the Nov. 6 election. Each party will endorse legislative candidates March 31.
Four south Washington County Democrats – Steven Gallagher, a Newport City Council member; Dan Lund, of Newport; and Dan Schoen and Katie Schwartz, both of St. Paul Park – have announced their intention to seek the local DFL nod in the new House District 54A this November.
“I think it’s going to change the race up quite a bit,” said Schwartz, a former School Board candidate.
Kriesel’s decision not to seek a second term may have flipped the dynamic of the race. With about two weeks before the endorsing convention, Kellie Eigenheer, the local GOP chairwoman, was asked if Kriesel’s decision had left Republicans scrambling.
“Absolutely,” she said.
However, Eigenheer said, a number of local Republicans are weighing a run, either for the House seat or for the Senate seat held by DFLer Katie Sieben. She said they include Chad Rediske of Cottage Grove and Janis Quinlan of St. Paul Park. Cottage Grove City Council member Derrick Lehrke also was being considered as a legislative candidate, Eigenheer said. Lehrke said he is weighing his options.
“It’s accurate to say that I’m being asked to run for multiple offices this fall and I’m considering what is best for myself and neighbors,” Lehrke told the Bulletin.
Even as Democrats like the changing dynamic in the legislative race, Eigenheer said Republicans have run strong candidates in recent years and plan to do the same this fall.
“We’re not going to leave our bases uncovered,” she said.
The DFL candidates acknowledged a November matchup with Kriesel, who has made an outsized splash in less than two years as a state legislator, would have been a difficult race. Without him, each said in an interview, the push to recapture the seat won narrowly by Kriesel in 2010 has become less daunting.
“He’s definitely a guy with name recognition; he’s a high-profile individual,” said Schoen, a 10-year veteran of the Cottage Grove Police Department. “I think in any political race the incumbent has an advantage just for being the incumbent. Without a doubt, not having an incumbent in the seat opens the race in any direction.”
Lund, a Newport planning commissioner who works as an attorney in Woodbury, echoed that sentiment.
“It’s always easier to win a seat without an incumbent — and historically, this seat has been for the DFL,” he said. “So, I think it got easier without (Kriesel) running.”
Schwartz said she thinks her unsuccessful School Board run has given her valuable name recognition in a race that she believes was already going to be highly-competitive.
“I think that the Republicans are going to have to find someone who is well-known in the community in order to go after a seat that has historically been held by the DFL,” she said, adding that she believes her party had a better shot at taking the seat after Kriesel’s announcement.
Gallagher said he had been looking forward to the possibility of running against Kriesel. The Republican’s ability to raise large amounts of campaign cash from outside the district — as he did in 2010 — would have been difficult to compete with, he said. But Kriesel’s absence won’t make it easier, Gallagher said.
“I think you’ll have to put as much work in as you would otherwise,” he said. “It’s an even race at this point.”
Scott Wente contributed to this story.