ST. PAUL, Minn. - The 20-year-old daughter of the leading Democratic write-in candidate for a disgraced Duluth lawmaker's seat is alleging that her father abandoned her when she was 2, according to a published report Wednesday.

Candidate Erik Simonson confirmed to the Duluth News Tribune ( that he hasn't seen his daughter, Leah Simonson, in 18 years. He said it was wrong to say he abandoned her, pointing out he paid child support and health care bills as required in a divorce agreement with his ex-wife.

"To say the word `abandoned' leads people to believe that I didn't do what I was supposed to do," the paper quoted him as saying.

Erik Simonson, Duluth's assistant fire chief and a union leader, is the only candidate so far to declare his intention to seek the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's nomination for the Minnesota House seat Saturday. The party is meeting to switch its endorsement of the incumbent, Rep. Kerry Gauthier, who dropped his re-election bid after having a sexual encounter with a 17-year-old boy at a rest stop in July.

In an email to supporters sent Tuesday, Simonson said, "I did everything I was supposed to do, and I have nothing to hide. My previous marriage and daughter have been public knowledge for years, so I was not afraid of it coming out during this campaign."

Simonson told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he is moving forward with his bid for the DFL endorsement.

Senate District 7 DFL Chairman John Schwetman told AP that Simonson remains the only declared candidate, but others could come forward for screening before the nominating convention begins Saturday morning.

Leah Simonson, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said her father didn't respond to her attempts to contact him as she grew up, including sending cards and school pictures around age 5 and a phone message at age 13. She told the newspaper that he was wrong to cut off contact.

"He has two other daughters, and he sees them every day," she said. "And I don't understand. I just don't understand."

Erik Simonson said he stopped contact with his daughter as a mutual decision with his ex-wife when they were divorced.

But ex-wife Carrie Simonson disputed that account, saying he stopped weekend visits with his daughter after a fight about how little time he spent with her. Carrie Simonson said her ex-husband regularly paid $600 in monthly child support. She told the paper he paid health care bills after she sent them to the county, which required him to pay them.

Erik Simonson, who remarried and has two other daughters, said he disagreed with his ex-wife's version of events and didn't remember receiving cards from Leah. He said he would be open to contact with his daughter.

"I stepped up to the plate and I paid my child support on time through all these years," he told the News Tribune. "I'm not understanding why this is an issue now that needs to go to the media, but apparently somebody wants some attention, I guess."


Information from: Duluth News Tribune,