Minnesota: Ellison odds-on in 5th; Dems seek two-seat gain

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Voters here appeared poised to send a Muslim to Congress for the first time in the nation's history, and two other House races looked close enough to make a difference in Democratic hopes for winning control of Congress.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Voters here appeared poised to send a Muslim to Congress for the first time in the nation's history, and two other House races looked close enough to make a difference in Democratic hopes for winning control of Congress.

In Minneapolis, Keith Ellison probably won his most important campaign in September in the primary in a heavily liberal district. A win would make Ellison, who is black, the first Muslim in Congress and the first nonwhite representative Minnesota has sent to Washington.

Two other races were tighter.

Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy threw the 6th District seat open by running for Senate. Child-safety advocate Patty Wetterling, a Democrat, trailed Republican state lawmaker Michele Bachmann early in the race. But then Rep. Mark Foley resigned over sexual messages to former teenage House pages, shifting the race to turf that favored Wetterling, whose son Jacob was abducted on a rural road 17 years ago. Wetterling ran what were believed to be the first campaign ads in the nation referring directly to the scandal.

In southern Minnesota, GOP Rep. Gil Gutknecht faced his strongest challenge since his election when Republicans took control of Congress in 1994. He won the Republican-leaning district with nearly 60 percent of the vote two years ago, and has generally supported President Bush's policies in Iraq, though he has called for a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops.


His Democratic challenger, Tim Walz, a retired National Guard command sergeant major, has said the U.S. should focus on rebuilding Iraq, and a pullout if that can't be achieved. Walz, a Mankato teacher, attacked Gutknecht aggressively on Iraq.

Other Minnesota districts appeared safe for their incumbents.

Republican Rep. John Kline was running against Democratic challenger Coleen Rowley in the southern Twin Cities suburbs. Rowley, a whistleblower who criticized the FBI's pre-Sept. 11 handling of Zacarias Moussaoui, favored a gradual pullout from Iraq. Kline is a retired Marine Corps colonel, serves on the House Armed Services Committee, and has been a vocal supporter of the Bush administration's efforts in Iraq.

Republican Rep. Jim Ramstad was expected to win another term representing the western Twin Cities suburbs. His challenger was Democrat Wendy Wilde, whose real name is Wendy Pareene, a Twin Cities radio personality who has worked for WCCO Radio and recently for Air America Minnesota.

Rep. Betty McCollum was coasting to a fourth term representing the St. Paul area, a solidly Democratic district. Her Republican challenger was Obi Sium, an Eritrean immigrant and retired DNR engineer.

In western Minnesota's 7th District, conservative Democrat Rep. Collin Peterson was challenged by pharmacist Michael Barrett.

Northeastern Minnesota's 8th District was a battle between two congressional veterans: Longtime Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat first elected in 1974, and former GOP Sen. Rod Grams. Grams was elected to the U.S. House from a different district in 1992 and was elected to the Senate in 1994. But several missteps and a well-financed run by department store heir Mark Dayton bounced Grams from the Senate in 2000.



Ellison was among a slew of Democrats who jumped to run for a reliable seat long held by Rep. Martin Sabo. He emerged from the primary despite attacks from opponents over a past association with the Nation of Islam and his own failures to pay parking tickets and file campaign finance reports.

Wetterling's House bid came two years after she lost a race for the same seat, that to GOP Rep. Mark Kennedy. Wetterling and Kennedy were briefly rematched in a race for U.S. Senate this time around, but Wetterling eventually stepped aside after struggling to raise funds. Later, she decided to run again in the 6th, which lies on a swatch from the Twin Cities northwest to St. Cloud.

Bachmann raised her statewide profile by leading an effort at the Legislature for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Social issues were not a major part of her congressional campaign, though. Instead, she played up traditional Republican themes such as lower taxes and reduced government regulation.

Gutknecht's seat was once considered safe, but he suffered from the same troubles that burdened Republicans elsewhere. Walz attacked him for being too close to the president.

What To Read Next
Get Local