DFLers have a hot race to replace Ramstad in Third District

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 11, 2008 - 1:48 AM

Ashwin Madia, an Iraq war veteran, and state Sen. Terri Bonoff are the leaders in a surprisingly competitive race to be the DFL nominee in the western suburban district.

Any of this sound familiar?

A young upstart Democratic candidate rolls up an impressive number of delegates, while his more established opponent is far more successful with the party establishment, winning the backing of an overwhelming number of superdelegates.

As it has gone in this year's Democratic presidential race, so it's going in the DFL race for the Third Congressional District endorsement.

The Third District includes 11 state Senate districts, and after DFLers held conventions in five of them Saturday, newcomer Ashwin Madia claimed wins in four. He said he has captured 41.5 of the 95 delegates needed to win the party endorsement.

State Sen. Terri Bonoff, who represents Minnetonka, meanwhile, announced that she has won 46 delegates, a total that includes elected delegates and superdelegates, technically known as delegates-at-large.

Those totals in the Senate district balloting, which will end Saturday, show a surprisingly competitive race for the party's endorsement to compete in one of the most coveted congressional seats in the nation, one being vacated by the retiring Republican Rep. Jim Ramstad. The DFL nomination will be decided at the party's congressional district convention April 12.

On the GOP side, state Rep. Erik Paulsen of Eden Prairie is the only candidate for the open seat.

Madia's campaign has opted not to concentrate -- yet -- on the at-large delegates (state legislators and party officers who live in the district), said spokesman Chris Truscott. "We're concentrating on the 'small d' delegates," he said. "We think they're going to carry the day and worry about the superdelegates after Saturday."

A precise delegate count can't be calculated, in part, because the DFL doesn't maintain a running total; in addition, the firmness of delegates' support can't be gauged because their primary allegiance might not belong to a particular congressional candidate.

However, MNPublius, a Minnesota political blog that has closely followed the race, has calculated that Madia has received the support of 54.5 elected and at-large delegates to 46 for Bonoff, with five still uncommitted.

None of these delegates are obligated to vote for the candidate they're currently backing, said DFL spokesman John Stiles.

Madia is a lawyer from Plymouth who served with the Marines in Iraq and is making his first run for elective office.

Bonoff, a former executive for Tonka Toys and Navarre Corp., was the first DFLer in 20 years to be elected in her state Senate district when she won a special election in 2005.

A third DFL candidate, Edina Mayor Jim Hovland, also is seeking the party endorsement. A campaign spokesman said he is not claiming any of the elected delegates chosen so far, but pointed out that his Senate district meeting won't be held until Saturday.

In the Sixth District, DFL candidate Elwyn Tinklenberg reported that he has won about 63 percent of the elected delegates chosen so far.

Tom Beckfeld, field director for rival DFL candidate Robert Olson, would not report a specific number delegates. But he disputed the Tinklenberg campaign's claim, saying the race for the district's delegates is "about even."

Staff writer Eric Hanson contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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