WDAY: The News Leader

Published December 09, 2013, 01:47 PM

Minnesota GOP's Kline gets challenger from own party

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A fellow Republican launching an endorsement challenge to U.S. Rep. John Kline said Monday that the six-term incumbent congressman is not conservative enough.

By: PATRICK CONDON, Associated Press, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A fellow Republican launching an endorsement challenge to U.S. Rep. John Kline said Monday that the six-term incumbent congressman is not conservative enough.

David Gerson of South St. Paul kicked off his campaign at a state Capitol news conference. Gerson lost to Kline in the 2012 GOP primary in the 2nd Congressional District, getting just 15 percent of votes to 85 percent for Kline.

But Gerson said he entered the race late last time and would pursue a more organized and professional campaign this time. This time, he intends to pursue the endorsement of GOP activists in the largely suburban district south of St. Paul and said he would not run in the primary if he fails to get it.

Gerson affiliated himself with the tea party movement, saying the GOP needs to do a better job of supporting the principles of limited government, free markets and individual rights. He said conservatives "are tired of voting for Republicans who are the lesser of two evils. They are tired of voting for Republicans who mouth conservative principles but don't back them with action."

Gerson criticized Kline for his vote in October for the bill that raised the federal government's debt ceiling and ended the federal government shutdown. Kline was among about a third of U.S. House Republicans who backed the bill, joining fellow Minnesota Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen. The other Minnesota Republican in Congress, Rep. Michele Bachmann, voted against the bill.

Kline's campaign spokesman, Troy Kline, hit back at Gerson in an emailed statement. He noted that Gerson had initially sought the GOP's 2012 endorsement in another congressional district, then relocated to the 2nd District where he went on to challenge Kline in the primary.

"Why should Gerson be trusted?" Young asked. Young did not immediately respond to a follow-up email asking whether Kline would abide by the GOP's endorsement.

A retired Marine career officer, Kline was first elected to Congress in 2002 and is chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

A handful of Democrats are running to challenge Kline, including former state representative Mike Obermueller, who lost to Kline by about 8 percentage points in 2012.

Despite that margin, Democrats have viewed the 2nd District seat as a possible pickup opportunity from Republicans; a challenge from the right could push Kline to take more conservative positions that Democrats would then try to use against him.

The contests for Minnesota's eight congressional seats are likely to take a backseat in 2014 to races for governor and U.S. Senate. The 6th District's Bachmann is the only incumbent stepping down, and the most heat in that GOP-leaning district is likely to be among Republicans seeking to succeed her. Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan in northern Minnesota's 8th District will be defending a seat that has changed party hands in both of the last two cycles. So far, national money has not flowed to candidates seeking to unseat Republican Paulsen in the 3rd District, or Democrat Tim Walz in the 1st.

Gerson, 46, is an organizational development specialist for a multinational British aerospace firm. He said he would seek financial support from a handful of conservative political groups that have funded primary or endorsement challenges against sitting Republicans in Congress. His campaign chairwoman is Marianne Stebbins, a longtime GOP activist closely associated with former Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, a tea party favorite.

"My campaign is not a challenge to Republicanism, but an effort to define it," Gerson said.