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DFL District 17 Senate decision heads to primary

Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, addresses the convention. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

CLARA CITY -- After four rounds of balloting Thursday night in Clara City DFL delegates from Senate District 17 failed to endorse a candidate to run for Senate, making a primary election necessary.

In the end it didn't really matter that Rep. Lyle Koenen of Clara City or Larry Rice from Willmar didn't garner enough votes to meet the 60 percent quota for gaining endorsement.

Both candidates announced at the start of the convention that they would not suspend their campaign for Senate if the other candidate was endorsed.

Perhaps those statements made delegates reluctant to move their votes from one candidate to the other as ballots were repeated.

After the fourth ballot, Koenen had 85 votes and Rice has 71 votes.

On a voice vote, the delegates agreed to not endorse a candidate.

Buoyed by his win Tuesday in a special election to fill the remaining term of the late Sen. Gary Kubly, Koenen said he was encouraged by colleagues to seek voters' approval in the primary election in August for the right to challenge Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, in November.

Rice, who took on Gimse two years ago in the Senate race, said the close delegate vote showed that delegates were evenly divided on who they preferred.

The convention was held in Koenen's backyard, which could have made it easier for delegates from Chippewa County to attend the event to vote for Koenen.

But Rice could be helped in the primary because there are more voters in Kandiyohi County than the other counties in the district, which also includes all of Swift and Chippewa Counties and a portion of Renville County.

During the nominating process, Koenen received the endorsement of Kubly's widow, Pat, who said Koenen has the same "rural heart" that her husband did that will make him a good Senator.

She said Koenen isn't "flashy" but that his experience in the House will help him be "up and running" in the Senate.

In his nomination speech Sam Nelson said Rice is a candidate who will "bear witness to hope and possibility." As a life-long small business owner and "true job creator," he said Rice can articulate a vision for a "brighter future." Meanwhile, it took just one ballot for delegates to endorse Mary Sawatzky for House District 17B seat over Jessica Rohloff. Sawatzky had 60 votes and Rohloff had 36.

When pressed by the DFL chairman to announce whether she would abide by the endorsement process Rohloff said she would not. However, in later comments to the West Central Tribune, Rohloff said she would take the weekend to decide whether or not to challenge Sawatzky in a primary election.

The two candidates, who are from Willmar, both spoke about their political priorities.

They also spoke about what would make them more electable than the GOP incumbent, Bruce Vogel, who they said was out of touch with constituents and lacked the compassion to walk in constituents' shoes.

Rep. Andrew Falk, of House District 17A had not challenger was unanimously endorsed.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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