Races of the Week

Minnesota’s 3rd District

Paulsen vs. Madia  

As trusted a former staffer and good a friend to Rep. Jim Ramstad (R.-Minn.) as he has been, Erik Paulsen thinks conservatives would certainly agree that he will be a philosophical “upgrade” over the retiring 18-year House member.  

“I’m more conservative than Jim,” says state House GOP Leader Paulsen without hesitation, citing his pro-life position as one example of his differences with the retiring congressman (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 69%) he is trying to succeed.  

After graduating from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., in 1987 and serving on the staff of then-Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R.-Minn.), Paulsen went to work as legislative assistant and then field director for Ramstad. In 1994, at age 29, he won his first term in the state house of representatives and compiled a conservative voting record. Eight years later, Paulsen succeeded Republican Gov-elect Tim Pawlenty as state house majority leader.  

After six years as governor, Pawlenty is fond of telling interviewers that he is decidedly more conservative than such centrist Republican predecessors as Al Quie, Arne Carlson, Harold LeVander, and Harold Stassen. As Pawlenty’s designated hitter in the state house, Paulsen is cut from the same cloth. He was the “mover and shaker” on such key measures in Pawlenty’s agenda as conquering a $4.5 billion state deficit without a tax increase, passing a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, and an amendment defining marriage as a union between man and woman.  

“And I’m also rooted in the real world,” says Paulsen with a laugh, noting that he has a degree in mathematics and has long had a management job with Target.  

Although he is the Republican nominee in a district (suburban Minneapolis) that has been in GOP hands for 48 straight years, Paulsen faces an unusually strong challenge from trial lawyer Ashwin Madia, an Obama Democrat. Embracing opposition to the U.S. action in Iraq and other leftist positions, first-time candidate and Iraqi War veteran Madia won the Democratic nomination in an upset over a well-known state senator. By calling for letting the Bush tax cuts expire and for enacting the very controversial “card-check” that would kill the secret ballot in union elections, the Democratic hopeful has won the backing of such well-heeled left-wing organizations as the AFSCME government employee union, and the Patriot Majority.  

To counter this onslaught, the soft-spoken-but-determined Paulsen must rely on the support of both moderate GOPers, who are still a force in the 3rd District, and his natural constituency — fellow conservatives.     

Missouri’s 6th District 

Graves vs. Barnes 

Since he wrested Missouri’s 6th U.S. House District (Kansas City) from Democratic control back in 2000, conservative Republican Sam Graves has voted his conservative conscience (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 92%) and not had much trouble at the polls. 

But this year is different. With the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) holding a seven-to-one spending advantage over its Republican counterpart this year, obviously some GOP lawmakers heretofore thought invulnerable are going to face unusually stiff challenges. Moreover, the DCCC finally recruited what it felt was its top-tier candidate against Graves: Kansas City Mayor Nancy Barnes. 

“And this is what I don’t understand,” says Graves. “They spent all this time courting her and trying to get her to run and she’s the most liberal opponent I have faced in my entire

Indeed, in her two terms at City Hall, onetime sex therapist Barnes watched the size of the of Kansas City budget double. She pushed through domestic partnership benefits for city employees and opposed an amendment defining marriage as a union between man and woman.

“And she’s raking in the [pro-abortion] EMILY’s List money, so you know where she stands on abortion,” says Graves, who is unabashedly pro-life. He also points out that Democrat Barnes was on the Advisory Board of Fannie Mae in ’03, just at the point that Republicans in Congress were unsuccessfully fighting to rein in the mortgage titan from backing loans for people who had no business getting them. 

For his part, Graves is relentless in pushing for a massive overhaul of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977 that launched the proliferation of sub-prime lending and for rolling back the capital gains tax. As he put it, “To get out of this mess, let’s do stuff that really works.”     

New Mexico’s1st District 

White vs. Heinrich 

Although the television series “The Man and The City” lasted for only the 1971-72 season, it was widely praised for its portrayal of a Southwestern city that was most surely Albuquerque, N. M., and for Anthony Quinn’s role as the earthy, street-wise and visionary mayor, Thomas Jefferson Alcala. 

In many ways, Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) Sheriff Darren White is the fictional Alcala come to life. Following a stint as a private-first-class in the 82nd Airborne Division, White became a beat cop and earned his college degree in business management at night (“I was on the ten-year plan!”). He later went on to become New Mexico secretary of public safety. But that phase of White’s career came to an end when Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, soon after his re-election in 1998, announced his support for legalization of all drugs. For someone whose first career was law enforcement, this was too much. White resigned from Johnson’s Cabinet and became the crime correspondent for KRQE-TV in Albuquerque. 

In ’02, White returned to his first love, law enforcement, winning election as county sheriff. To run for office, he had to give up his television job, so, to pay the bills, he took on a new occupation: driving a taxicab. 

“It was another way to keep in touch with folks,” recalls the lawman-candidate. “You got to hear what was on the mind of the people, just as I did when I was walking the beat.” 

In his two terms as sheriff, White oversaw 300 deputies and a $25 million budget. Now 45, White is the Republican nominee for the seat of outgoing GOP Rep. Heather Wilson. 

In the Democratic nominee, former Albuquerque City Councilman Martin Heinrich, the conservative White faces an opponent who is clearly his polar opposite. 

“He’s anti-Patriot Act, anti-U.S. in Iraq, pro-abortion, and wants the Bush tax cuts to expire,” observes White. “I don’t know how much farther away you can get from me than that.” The GOP nominee also says that “protecting those tax cuts of ’01 and ’03 is my top priority.” 

With help from friends in the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, one-time camp counselor Heinrich ran to the left and won a crowded Democratic primary. Now he is clearly trying to move to the center by talking about his support for the right to keep and bear arms. 

“If that is the one issue on which my opponent can say he’s in the mainstream, I’m not impressed," says White. “I carry a gun every single day.” 

Darren White says his goal in Congress is “to shake that place up.” In so doing, he plans to follow the pattern he has maintained in all his varied careers: Keep in touch with folks. “Even as sheriff, I try to get out with my deputies and walk the beat and listen,” he says. “All officeholders should try it sometime. They’ll learn something.”