Emmer No. 1, for now, in wide-open Sixth Congressional District race

Three other Republicans are poised to pounce if he stumbles in bid to succeed Michele Bachmann.

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Tom Emmer

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The quest to take U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s seat when she retires is deeply unsettled in the starkly Republican suburban and outstate Sixth Congressional District.

Former statewide Republican star Tom Emmer has raised more than $373,000 for the coming congressional battle, $152,000 of it in the last three months, according to a report filed Tuesday.

The haul keeps Emmer’s front-runner status intact — for now. But three other Republicans, with followings of their own, are poised to pounce if he stumbles.

Emmer already has been mocked on the “The Colbert Report,” a national TV show, for a video he cut for a remodeling firm.

The intraparty tussle, which may last well into next summer’s primary, could distract from the expected brutal battle to oust Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken next year.

GOP faithful, still absorbing Bachmann’s razor-thin victory last year, congressional turmoil and local party debt, want peace in their strongest GOP district in Minnesota.

“We need that to be a very strong district that adds to rather than detracts from other Republican races,” said state Rep. Matt Dean, a former Minnesota House majority leader from Dellwood who has considered running for Congress.

The other candidates and their supporters generally acknowledge that Emmer, who lost the 2010 race for governor by a recount-inducing 8,700 votes, is the one to beat.

But they are wooing delegates and loaning themselves campaign cash to compete for the district, making clear Emmer has not closed the deal yet.

Former Taxpayers League president Phil Krinkie, who ran for Congress in 2006 only to be passed over for Bachmann, plunked down $300,000 of his own money to show he’s preparing for the long haul.

“I’ve never run a campaign in the red yet,” said Krinkie, who served 16 years as a representative in the Minnesota House. “I don’t intend to start doing deficit spending now.”

Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah, who has captured local conservative trust and represents a county that includes about a third of the district’s voters, loaned her campaign $150,000 in the last three months. That personal loan made up most of her fundraising.

Ben Golnik, a Republican consultant who worked for Emmer’s GOP opponent in the 2010 governor’s race, said Sivarajah may be poised to siphon off Emmer doubters.

“The one with most upside potential for growing grass-roots support would be with Sivarajah, who is seen as a safe alternative to Emmer,” Golnik said.

Sivarajah, who was the lieutenant governor pick for Emmer’s opponent Marty Seifert three years ago, has taken pains to distance herself from Bachmann’s risky confrontational style.

“I think we have a lot of the same core beliefs. I think the difference is maybe in the approach,” she said this summer.

Add to the mix low-profile Sen. John Pederson, who is working to sweep up support in his voter-rich hometown of St. Cloud and expand his base by showing up at events all across the district.

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