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State GOP goes on the offensive

RED WING, Minn. - State Republican Party officials launched the opening salvo Wednesday in what they say will be an aggressive effort to take back legislative seats.

It began with Sen. Steve Murphy, a lawmaker who is "out of touch" with his district, said Minnesota Republican Party Deputy Chairman Michael Brodkorb.

"Sen. Murphy's number was just up," he said of the Red Wing Democrat.

Murphy is the target of a billboard that went up Wednesday in downtown Red Wing claiming the five-term legislator is "taking our $$$ and liberties."

Brodkorb said the move marks the beginning of an aggressive campaign by state Republicans to kick Democrats out of the Legislature.

"We're going to continue with this type of tactic and see what the response is," he said. "We're going to be repeating this exercise in as many areas as possible."

Murphy was the first state lawmaker to enter Republicans' crosshairs because of a perceived disconnect with his southeastern Minnesota district, Brodkorb said. Brodkorb also pointed to a more energized GOP presence in Murphy's Senate District 28, a portion of which re-elected Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, in 2008.

"I think it's a ripe opportunity for us," said Brodkorb, formerly of the political blog Minnesota Democrats Exposed and now the communications director for Senate Republicans.

Asked why he thought Republicans chose to target him, Murphy offered his own theory.

"It's because they hate my guts," he said. "It's because I work across party lines and they hate it. That just didn't happen willy-nilly."

News of the billboard took the Senate Transportation Committee chairman by surprise Wednesday. Still, Murphy said he expected to be targeted, hinting that GOP support he helped gather to overturn Gov. Tim Pawlenty's transportation bill veto may have been behind it.

"I kind of thought they were going to come after me hard," Murphy said.

Voters won't go to the polls in state Senate races until November 2010. So why start campaigning more than 14 months in advance?

"It's never too early to start discussing incumbents' records," Brodkorb said. "This is just the start."

Murphy has not announced whether he will run for re-election and he didn't elaborate Wednesday.

"It looks that way, doesn't it?" he joked, before saying: "It's way too early to say."