With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Corey Mitchell, Allison Sherry and Jim Spencer.

Posts about 7th District

Democrats allege Torrey Westrom took government perks too

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: October 21, 2014 - 3:51 PM

WASHINGTON – National Republicans have spent more than $4 million on ads portraying Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson as a man of Washington, a veteran House member who got the federal government to reimburse him for flying his private plane around, lease a couple cars and take junkets.

On Tuesday, state DFL leaders fought back pointing out his GOP opponent Torrey Westrom has also cashed in on publicly supported perks and reimbursements while serving in the state legislature.

“If Sen. Westrom is going to remain silent while out of state groups smear Rep. Peterson, it’s time to hold him accountable for his record of profiting from the taxpayers,” said DFL Chair Ken Martin, in a statement.

Martin pointed out Westrom was named the seventh-highest expense collector in the Minnesota Senate in 2013 — more than doubling his annual salary in per diems, mileage, housing and travel expenses.

From 2002 to 2014, Westrom received $98,477 in per diem payments, according to state House and Senate records compiled by Democrats. In that same timeframe, he received $54,000 in district travel expenses and $119,000 on lodging expenses and $47,000 on mileage expenses.

The National Republican Congressional Committee said from 2005 to 2013, Peterson, who is running for his 13th term, spent $73,976 on money to lease two vehicles. In that same time period, Peterson reimbursed himself $139,481 in privat auto mileage and gasoline, which includes $21,535 in rembursements for his plane.

Polls have been up and down in this race, but most show Westrom and Peterson within a few points of each other. Fifty percent of voters surveyed by KSTP Oct. 3 - Oct. 6 said they supported Peterson and 41 percent said they supported Westrom with 10 percent still undecided. Then a GOP poll out last week put Westrom ahead 44-43, with 13 percent still undecided.

“This is more evidence that Democrats are worried about keeping 12-term incumbent Collin Peterson’s seat,” said Caitlin Carroll, Westrom spokeswoman in an e-mailed statement. “The facts are Congressman Peterson no longer represents western Minnesota’s values and has lost touch with this district.”

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tyler Houlton said: “I imagine Democrats in the state legislature will be pretty furious with DFL Chairman Martin for condemning his own party’s use of per diems that help them better represent their constituents."

Peterson’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

By the numbers: U.S. House candidates' hauls

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: October 17, 2014 - 4:30 PM

With fundraising numbers in for U.S. House candidates, the disparities in fundraising are clear.

Incumbents, in both contested and safer seats, have far more cash at the ready for the final stretch before the election.

Explore the congressional map below to view the candidates' campaign cash.

Hover over the chart below to see the candidates' hauls arranged, by district.

Alejandra Matos contributed to this report.

Absentee ballots largely from regular voters, Democratic areas

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: October 16, 2014 - 4:38 PM

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt

Absentee ballots are streaming to election offices across the state but very few of those early voters are new voters, according to a Star Tribune analysis.

Only 5.6 percent of the nearly 34,000 voters who have already had ballots accepted did not vote in the last midterm election year, 2010. Another five percent did not vote in 2010 or 2012, the last presidential election year.

The analysis indicates that despite pushes from both Democrats and Republicans, new voters are not yet availing themselves of the law that allows anyone to vote by absentee.

About 34,000 people voted by absentee ballot as of Oct. 14. Another 6,000, in small, rural precincts, voted by mail.

Of the people who cast absentee ballots, 29 percent also voted absentee in both the 2010 and 2012 elections. Another 31 percent went to the polls in both of those election years.

The analysis also shows that more voters who have already had ballots counted come from Democratic areas than from Republican areas. By county, by Minnesota House district and even by precinct, more ballots are flowing in from areas that lean toward Democrats than lean toward Republicans.

Nearly half of absentee ballots have been cast by voters who live in Democratic House districts, 32 percent came from those in Republican House districts and about 19 percent came from swing districts.

Minnesota voters do not register by party so the Star Tribune does not have access to the personal politics of voters.

Keith Downey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, and Ken Martin, chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, have both been pouring over absentee voter list. Both parties have invested in identifying voters by party.

With that data, the DFL and the Republican Party have come up with different results.

Martin, the DFL chairman, said their numbers show that 59 percent of absentee ballots have been cast by voters they have identified as Democrats. Martin said many of those Democrats are infrequent voters -- exactly the demographic they have need to turnout if the DFL is to do well this year.

The Republican Party shows statewide 39 percent of absentee votes so far have come from Republicans, 36 percent came from Democrats and 25 percent came from independent or unidentified voters, Republican chair Downey said.

Across the state, significantly more voters are opting to vote absentee than had in the 2010 election, according to the secretary of state.

Compared to nearly 40,000 accepted ballots as of Wednesday, election officials had only accepted 23,000 absentee ballots by this point in the 2010 election.

This year for the first time, anyone who wants to vote absentee can do so regardless of whether they can show up at the polls on Election Day. Previously, voters would have to offer an excuse for why they needed to vote absentee.

Below, see the number of ballots already cast and accepted, by county.

Updated to reflect more specific numbers.

GOP poll: Westrom and Peterson neck and neck

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: October 16, 2014 - 3:18 PM

WASHINGTON -- A new internal GOP poll puts Seventh Congressional District Republican candidate Torrey Westrom within striking distance of veteran Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson.

The poll, released Thursday by Westrom's campaign, shows Westrom at 44 and Peterson at 43 percent approval, with 13 percent of people still undecided. This is a four-point gain for Westrom in six weeks.

Peterson was elected to Congress in 1990. Westrom is a state lawmaker.

The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 5.8 points and was based on a telephone survey of 300 "likely" voters Oct. 12 - 14.

By the numbers: U.S. House candidates' hauls

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: October 15, 2014 - 6:13 PM

Wednesday was the latest filing day for U.S. House candidates and the cash is rolling in.

According to Federal Election Commission filings and information from campaigns, Republican Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen lead all candidates in how much cash they have left in the bank. Although neither of their suburban districts are targeted by national outside spending, both have more than $1.5 million in their war chests.

In the targeted western Seventh Congressional District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson has raised and spent more than his Republican challenger Torrey Westrom and has nearly twice as much left in the bank.

According to FEC files, independent groups have pumped more than $4.8 million into that district, a thousand-fold more than outside groups spent in 2012. The district which has a Republican tilt but has long sent Peterson to Washington by overwhelming margins.

Outside groups have already spent $6.6 million in the highly northern Eighth District, which has swung between Democratic and Republican representation in recent years.

In that race, the candidates -- Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and Republican challenger Stewart Mills -- have kept competitive in fundraising but Nolan has more cash on hand going into the final stretch. Mills has added to his cash haul by lending his campaign $250,000 so far.

See the other numbers available below. The chart will be updated as more numbers become available.

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