Al Kruse and Rep. Chris Swedzinski are focusing on the meat-and-potatoes issues they hear about most from residents of southwestern Minnesota: jobs, the economy, taxes, education and roads.
For Swedzinski, employment and the economy are "my biggest priorities."
Kruse emphasizes education, saying, "I think we need to properly fund education."
The two are running for the Minnesota House seat in the newly redrawn District 16A, which covers Lac qui Parle and Yellow Medicine counties and portions of Redwood and Lyon counties.
Swedzinski, a Republican who farms near Ghent, is an incumbent who was first elected to House in 2010, representing the former District 21A.
Kruse, a DFLer, is from Marshall. Now retired, he previously worked as a farm machinery sales rep, then in insurance and investment sales and as a jobs program manager.
He made two earlier unsuccessful runs for the Legislature, for the Senate in District 21 two years ago and for the House in District 21A in 2008.
The two candidates have been knocking on doors and making the rounds of county fairs and farm auctions as they campaign across their rural district.
Swedzinski, 34, says he's seeking another term because he believes there's still work to be done.
He said he hears people talking about jobs, rising fuel prices and decreasing home prices. "All of these things are on their minds. They're worried. ... I believe we're currently in a fragile recovery. We've still got some interesting times ahead."
Government should not grow faster than the rate at which the economy is growing, Swedzinski said. He supports continuing efforts to restructure state government. He also favors reducing the most burdensome aspects of regulation and finding ways to encourage private-sector innovation.
"I believe that we need a balanced approach," he said. "We need to grow our economy and reduce the size of government."
Kruse, 62, says voters should have a choice. "That's what our election process is about, so I decided to jump in," he said.
He views jobs, adequate funding of services and a sound infrastructure as intertwined and vital to the economy but puts education and education funding at the top of the list.
If children aren't ready for kindergarten and aren't able to read at grade level by third grade, it's much more challenging for them to become successful later in life, he said. "That's so critical for the rest of their lives. ... Education is absolutely the key. If we don't get our kids educated, we won't have a future."
Kruse said he would take a balanced approach to the budget, but he believes Minnesota must be willing to pay more taxes to preserve services, infrastructure and quality of life.
The state is losing ground in its ability to maintain roads and bridges and invest in post-secondary education, he said. "People do not want to hear they have to pay more taxes. But I do want an educated workforce. I want better highways. ... We can't keep starving government if we want services."
Both candidates say there's a need to strengthen the rural economy and make it attractive for young people to stay in their hometown.
During previous legislative sessions, Swedzinski worked on legislation to reform the tax structure to make it easier for farms to be passed on to the next generation. Some inroads were made but more work needs to be done on this issue, he said.
He and Kruse also see a need for rural and urban legislators to work with each other and understand the concerns of rural Minnesota.
Kruse suggests building a rural legislative coalition to help accomplish this. "I think we need to educate our city folk about where their food comes from," he said. "I think it's about building relationships. I think we need to start with the things we absolutely agree on."
Swedzinski said one of his goals would be to serve as an ambassador on behalf of rural Minnesota. "Our rural issues and rural way of life may not have as much representation in the future," he said.