MANKATO — A Waseca state senator, who has gained a reputation as a deeply conservative and sometimes combative lawmaker during his 21 months in the Legislature, announced Friday that he intends to knock off Congressman Tim Walz in next year’s First District contest.
Sen. Mike Parry is the first Republican to announce a run against Walz, a three-term Democrat from Mankato and a former teacher at West High School. Walz attracted five Republican challengers in 2010, but all dropped out after state Rep. Randy Demmer of Hayfield beat them at an endorsing convention in April.
Parry is hopeful that activists will rally around his campaign and his message of smaller government, fewer regulations, and private sector solutions to the nation’s lagging economy.
“If you step out there, you show them you’re a leader, people will follow and jump on board,” he said.
A former broadcaster and manager in the radio industry and currently co-owner of a Waseca pizza restaurant, Parry said he’s confident he can match Walz in fundraising and win the race.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe I could do that, and I know I can.”
By filing the required paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission, Parry can start the daunting task of raising well over $1 million for the campaign. Walz has proven a strong fundraiser, spending $1.4 million in upsetting 12-year veteran Congressman Gil Gutknecht in 2006 and topping $2 million in each of his re-election bids.
Parry hasn’t set a goal for campaign donations but said he has strong skills in fundraising.
“I do know that I’m a hard charger. I work from sun-up to sun-down and then some.”
Because congressional district lines haven’t yet been redrawn following the 2010 census and aren’t expected to be finalized until late in the winter, it isn’t guaranteed that Parry and Walz will be in the same district. That uncertainty may keep other potential contenders from jumping into the Republican endorsement fight.
With Waseca just 27 miles from Mankato, though, Parry considers it a virtual lock that he will be facing Walz if he wins the Republican endorsement. He gave a preview Friday of his campaign theme.
Walz may have an image in southern Minnesota as a moderate Democrat, but his support of health care reform, the economic stimulus package and cap-and-trade legislation to reduce usage of fossil fuels tells a different story, Parry said.
“When he gets to Washington, he votes with his ultra-liberal friends,” Parry said.
Those three votes were the prime targets of Demmer in last year’s election and were the focus of hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside attack ads by various conservative interest groups. Despite the Republican wave that tossed Democratic incumbents aside in droves and gave the GOP control of the House, Walz topped Demmer by 5 percentage points.
The Walz campaign office wouldn’t comment directly on Parry’s entrance into the race or the incumbent’s re-election prospects.
“Republicans will have a process to select their nominee,” declared the campaign’s statement. “Tim Walz is working hard for southern Minnesotans. He’s focusing on creating jobs, getting our economy back on track and advocating for our nation’s veterans.”
Parry said the failure of Washington to address the weak economy has southern Minnesota voters deeply concerned and looking for change.
“Our economy is still struggling and the available jobs are scarce and home values just continue to drop,” he said.
The answer is to reduce federal spending and reduce government regulations, according to Parry. That would give private sector job-creators the flexibility and confidence required to start hiring.
Public opinion polls have also showed frustration with the inability of Congress and the president to compromise and work together during a time of economic crisis, and Parry received some criticism for sometimes pugnacious comments when Republicans were deadlocked over the state budget with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
He reportedly walked out of a meeting between Dayton and Legislative Republicans, called for Dayton’s resignation and once declared that Dayton “has no feelings.”
Parry said he’s willing to compromise and work with Democrats when that doesn’t violate basic principles or the interests of his constituents.
“There are times when you do reach across and stand together,” he said. “But there are other times when you stand firm for what you and your citizens believe in.”
While Walz’s campaign didn’t comment directly on Parry, state DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin wasn’t reluctant.
“Mike Parry has proven himself to be an angry, ultra-conservative tea-party Republican ...,” Martin said in a written statement. “As Minnesotans in the First District get to know Mike Parry better, they will see his far right positions are out of line with the views of southern Minnesotans.”