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Koenen tops Rice in DFL race in Sen. Dist. 17 primary

Update:With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Lyle Koenen has received 2,763 votes and Larry Rice 2,215 votes in the DFL primary in State Senate 17.

WILLMAR -- State Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, won a primary election contest to represent the DFL Party in the Nov. 6 general election in the new Senate District 17.

The Associated Press reported just before 11 p.m. that Koenen had defeated Willmar businessman Larry Rice in the primary Tuesday.

With 108 of 134 precincts reporting at 11 p.m., Koenen had 2,578 votes, and Rice had 2,044 votes, a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.

Koenen will face Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, in the Nov. 6 general election. Gimse did not have a primary opponent.

District 17 includes all of Kandiyohi, Swift and Chippewa counties and most of Renville County. District lines throughout the state were redrawn this year using 2010 census information. Candidates are running to represent the new districts when they take office in early 2013.

Rice and Koenen ended up in a primary contest after District 17 DFL delegates ended their endorsing convention without an endorsement in the Senate race.

Koenen, 56, is a former dairy farmer. He stopped farming full time when he was elected to the Legislature and now works as a contract milk hauler.

Koenen served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2002 until spring 2012, when he was elected to the Senate to serve the remainder of the late Sen. Gary Kubly's term.

Rice, 60, lives in Willmar and is president and CEO of Lakeland Nurseries in Willmar. He ran against Gimse and lost in 2010.

Koenen said he is looking forward to running against Gimse.

"I know Senator Gimse," he said. "I think he's the kind of guy you wouldn't mind having for your neighbor."

Still, the two have strong differences on issues, particularly when it comes to how to allocate and balance the state budget, he said.

Koenen thanked his supporters, his wife Sandy and his family. "No candidate can do it alone," he said. "It takes a lot of help."

Koenen expressed his admiration for Rice and his campaign, too. "I think they ran a good campaign," he said. "I expected it to be close; I knew Larry would be a formidable candidate."

Koenen said he got to know the Rices during the campaign and thinks highly of them and the team effort they put into their campaign.

Rice said he was disappointed in the result but did not expect that the remaining precincts would give him enough votes to pull ahead of Koenen.

"We gave it what we think was our best shot," he said. "Life will go on; it's OK."

Rice said he wasn't quite ready on Tuesday night to offer his support to Koenen.

"There are some things I would need to consider before I would agree to that," he said.

In the final days of the race, he said, there were some advertisements, mailings and telephone calls from third parties that gave the impression that Koenen was a DFL-endorsed candidate. The Rices received some of the calls at their home.

Koenen said those types of activities are not coordinated with his campaign, and he only knew about the calls because he received them at his home, too.

Even with the disappointing tactics at the end, Rice said he enjoyed campaigning this year more than in 2010. "We made a lot of new friends and don't regret a minute."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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