WASHINGTON – It was hard to imagine which Minnesota politician's hotdish casserole would taste the best.
Would it be Sen. Amy Klobuchar's Minnesota Melting Tot, baked with Laotian rice, Swedish meatballs, Ukrainian sausage and lingonberry jam?
Would it be freshman Rep. Jason Lewis' "Minnesota Wild" Rice and Pheasant hotdish?
"That's just classic Minnesota — I think that one's got the edge," Lewis said, during his first visit to Sen. Al Franken's annual hotdish competition on Wednesday, now in its seventh year at the U.S. Capitol.
Would it be Rep. Keith Ellison's Solidarity Kugel, with its parsnips, sweet potatoes, carrots and apple?
"There is no doubt victory is in my grasp," said Ellison, as a trio of judges sampled casseroles baked by the 10 members of Minnesota' congressional delegation. "I'll tell you this: Al Franken doesn't deserve to win this thing. … But he has been pretty good dealing with these Republicans this week so we've got to give him a little bit of credit."
Franken told guests this year's competition was the most important ever, given the divisive November elections.
"Because what this is all about is being a neighbor — sharing food, sustenance, a hearty, hearty prairie dish," said Franken, clad in a red apron as hungry Minnesotans gathered around.
Rep. Erik Paulsen missed the event, though he left a Lake Wobegon Shepherd's Pie. He was attending a meeting of the Ways and Means Committee, which was considering amendments to the GOP majority's controversial new plan to replace Obamacare.
But talking policy differences was a faux pas at the hotdish competition, which Franken started to foster bipartisan goodwill.
The dishes were judged by Ed Ehlinger, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health; Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Around 12:15, Rep. Collin Peterson's Right to Bear Arms hotdish was deemed the winner. One of his staffers, Mike Stranz, had shot the bear on a hunting trip.
But Peterson had a confession to make during his victory speech.
"This bear was actually shot in Wisconsin," he said. Everybody laughed.