Three rivals for Michele Bachmann's congressional seat found a great deal of common ground at a Saturday night candidate forum in Andover.
Three of the four declared Republican candidates -- former gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah and state Sen. John Pederson -- squared off at a forum hosted by the Sixth District Republicans. Although "squared off" might be too strong a term for an event where the candidates staked out similar positions on issues ranging from abortion to immigration to the budget deal Congress hammered out this weekend.
All three blasted the bipartisan budget agreement that will avert the threat of a government shutdown for the next two years. All three said they would vote against similar deals in the future if they're the one the voters decide to send to Washington. The agreeable tone continued throughout the debate.
"My priorities are roads and bridges," said Pederson, in response to a question about their support, or lack thereof, for the Northstar commuter rail corridor. "We're going to have more trains until people in strong districts like CD6 get out and help people in other districts defeat Democrats who want those trains."
"We need to be focusing our limited resources on roads and bridges," said Sivarajah, who called the light rail plans a "boondoggle."
"I've never supported rail," Emmer agreed.
What about auditing the Federal Reserve? Would the candidates support that idea if elected to Congress? Absolutely, Pederson and Sivarajah said.
"Why stop there?" Emmer said. "Why not audit the IRS? Why not audit the NSA? Why not audit the Department of Education?... Everything should be audited."
The tone of civility and unity was deliberate. Battered by the 2012 election cycle and the loss of the Legislature to the DFL, the people who paid $50 a head to hear the candidates speak on a snowy Saturday night wanted to hear how they planned to take down the Democrats -- not each other.
Bachmann missed the event, but her colleague, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., headlined, It was time, Duffy said, for the GOP to stop using ideological "purity tests."
"We're never going to win if we stand in a circle and shoot," Duffy said. "We have to be a family."
Missing from the forum was the fourth declared Republican in the race -- former state Rep. Phil Krinkie, who bowed out to protest the fact that the event was only open to the limited number of people who paid to get in.