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Kline faces the perception that he’s too conservative for his district, which took on more traditionally Democratic territory in the last round of redistricting, Schier said. “That’s what leads to the optimism for his competitors,” he said.
From now until next November, Obermueller plans to hammer Kline on the shutdown, highlighting the congressman’s role in his party’s attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Obermueller and Democrat Thomas Craft said Kline could have helped end the shutdown sooner if he dared to veer from the party line.
“He’s had an opportunity to build himself up to look like a statesman and act like a moderate or talk like a moderate, but the reality is that the votes don’t lie,” said Obermueller, who lost to Kline by 8 percentage points in last fall’s election.
Craft said he also plans to focus on Kline’s voting record. According to opencongress.org, a site that tracks congressional voting trends, Kline votes with his party 95 percent of the time.
“In this district, people expect that their representative is going to be a bit more moderate and John Kline has definitely shown over time that he’s not,” Craft said.
Kline’s vote to end the shutdown has also energized hard-line conservatives. Republican David Gerson said Kline “hasn’t upheld our Republican values.” Kline trounced Gerson last year, winning 85 percent of the vote.
The Star Tribune could not immediately reach DFL candidate Paula Overby for comment.
So far, Democratic donors and super PACs, such as House Majority PAC, haven’t poured much cash into the Second District race. That will change if they sense that ousting Kline could help them win the 17 seats they need to recapture control of the House.
But for all of the public anger directed at Republicans now, the election is still a year away. Alleigh Marré, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Kline has weathered tough political climates in the past, including in 2006 when Democrats won 31 seats to take control of the House.
Democrats will keep reminding voters of the shutdown, but Republican operatives expect that as time goes on, frustration with Obama’s Affordable Care Act will grow, making the budget fight a distant memory come next fall.
“Kline can always say that this was all about Obamacare,” Schier said. “If Obamacare’s still a big issue, he may be able to make headway with that.”
Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. • Twitter: @C_C_Mitchell