WILLMAR -- Rock music played Friday night as the auditorium at the MinnWest Technology Campus filled up with local Republicans and friends and supporters of Lee Byberg.
Out in the parking lot sat the shiny new bus that will take Byberg's campaign on the road, starting today with stops in Glencoe, Olivia, Redwood Falls and Litchfield.
Byberg, who is running on the GOP ticket against longtime Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson in Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District, officially launched his campaign Friday with a spirited rally.
"This is the beginning," Byberg promised.
Appearing with him were Rep. Tom Emmer, who last week was endorsed as the Republican candidate in the Minnesota governor's race, and Bruce Vogel, who is running for the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 13B.
In a speech laced with references to American history and values, Byberg said his campaign is about more than running against Peterson, his opponent.
The U.S. is at a critical turning point in its history, he said. "There's something much bigger at stake. We are fighting for America."
Byberg pledged to travel throughout the district in the upcoming months, meeting and listening to voters.
He urged his audience Friday night to mobilize with him.
"What it takes is your excitement," he said. "It is up to you to reach out to your neighbors."
Emmer delivered a similar message of unity.
Stressing a need to get voters engaged, he told the room, "It's going to take all of us to win this."
Upwards of 100 people turned out for the rally, which was originally planned to be held outdoors at Robbins Island but was driven indoors by cold, rainy weather. The chairs quickly filled up, prompting organizers to bring in more seating. The crowd welcomed Emmer enthusiastically and applauded several times during Byberg's speech.
At the back of the room were sign-up sheets for volunteering and financial donations.
Byberg's campaign slogan, "Twice American," appeared on signs, on the baseball-style shirts worn by a youth delegation attending the rally, and emblazoned on his tour bus.
Byberg said the bus is meant to help his campaign connect at the grassroots with residents of the Seventh Congressional District. "We want to be visible and we want to go to communities and have town hall meetings and discuss the issues our nation is facing," he said.
Campaign staffers had only learned Friday that Emmer, the GOP's gubernatorial pick, was coming out to Willmar to show support for Byberg and Vogel.
Emmer said he plans to visit greater Minnesota often in upcoming months and lend help to GOP candidates wherever it's needed.
"This is going to be a different year in terms of how Republicans campaign," he said.
"This is just the beginning," he told rally-goers, predicting that by November "we're going to have an army behind us."