U.S. Rep. John Kline, a five-term Minnesota Republican and rising star in congressional GOP ranks, survived a surprisingly strong challenge Tuesday from DFL challenger Mike Obermueller in a race few thought would be competitive.
Kline, chairman of the influential House Education and Workforce Committee, has been a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner and a leading Republican voice in Congress on labor issues and educational reform.
As this edition of the Star Tribune went to press, Kline held an 8 percentage point lead over Obermueller, who was making his first run for Congress, and Kline had declared victory.
He told Republican supporters late in the evening that he wanted to echo Boehner's message about working across the aisle in Congress: "He is willing to work with others if they are willing to work with us," Kline said.
He called his own victory "a pretty solid win," but acknowledged "a lot of speculation because of redistricting that my district got a whole lot more Democrat, that this was going to be a really tough race."
He added, "I've been very confident all along."
Obermueller spokesman Matt Larson said the close race indicated how Kline "is completely out of touch with his district."
Obermueller, a former state representative from Eagan, received little media attention for his campaign, which was outspent by a ratio of more than 2-1 by Kline, a powerful lawmaker who raised more than $2.2 million for his re-election campaign.
The district, reaching into and beyond the Twin Cities' southern suburbs -- once solidly Republican territory -- became more evenly split after redistricting from the 2010 Census brought in the suburbs of South St. Paul and West St. Paul. But few analysts predicted that Kline, a retired Marine and polished campaigner, would face much trouble.
Kline ran as a fiscal conservative who led the GOP ban on congressional earmarks. He also supports repeal of President Obama's health care overhaul.
Obermueller, who represented the state House seat once held by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, ran as a moderate Democrat focused on saving Social Security and Medicare.
Their race attracted no national attention and little outside spending from partisan groups, in part because Kline won re-election two years ago by 26 points.
Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.