Third District: No endorsement

All three candidates in the race to replace Republican Jim Ramstad in the Third District are competent. But none inspired the critical mass of confidence required for our endorsement.

David Dillon, an entrepreneur and CEO of Meyers Printing Companies Inc., has grown into an impressive, multifaceted candidate. At debates, the Independence Party candidate demonstrated a deep grasp of the issues. He's smart, likable and genuine, offering up real-world perspective as a businessman who's grappled with health care costs and immigration. He also gets points for telling the brutal truth about ballooning federal entitlements.

In a race where the other candidates have cast themselves as Ram­stad moderates, Dillon most deserves that label. But his call for himself and others to never vote for "unbalanced" budgets (deficit spending) seem naive and would undercut his effectiveness. Not having a party to caucus with would further limit him.

Ashwin Madia, an Iraq veteran and Democrat, is young, bright and energetic. A vote for Madia is a vote for potential. He gets it right on energy policy, and his military service gives him welcome foreign policy perspective.

At the same time, we can't quite shake concerns that Madia's knowledge of key issues is wide, but not deep enough. Health care reform requires more than the efficiencies he emphasizes. His call for more education funding is good, but money alone won't solve school ills. And how does this new funding square with his call to cut spending?

At the last debate, Madia was less polished on policy than his two rivals and repeated an error made in his endorsement interview — that the Employee Free Choice Act would not allow a unionization drive to bypass a secret ballot.

The candidacy of Eden Prairie Republican Erik Paulsen generated significant reservations. Paulsen has an impressive political pedigree, serving as the Minnesota House Majority leader from 2003 through 2006. He was awarded a prestigious fellowship that took him to India and China.

But Paulsen's endorsement interview was disappointing. His answers on energy, health care and foreign policy lacked depth, detail and vision. Paulsen performed better at debates, but did not make the case that he has the depth needed to be a strong, independent leader in Congress.

Paulsen was a fiscal and social conservative in the Legislature, voting for measures that this newspaper opposed. Why he's casting himself as a moderate in this race is unclear. His conservative credentials are solid; he should have run on them.

Sixth District: Elwyn Tinklenberg

Back when Don Poss signed on as the Blaine city manager in the 1980s, someone asked why he'd want to work in a northern suburb then known mostly for sod farms and mobile home parks. Poss, the project manager who brought in the Metrodome on time and on budget, liked Blaine's city officials — particularly its young mayor, Elwyn Tinklenberg — and their forward-looking plans.

Today, Blaine's the home of the National Sports Center, the TPC golf course and neighborhoods that many young professional families call home. Other suburban officials now tour Blaine to see how growth can be done well. Poss gives much credit to Tinklenberg for the transformation, saying he had the vision and good people-management skills to make it happen.

A former Methodist minister and state transportation commissioner, Tinklenberg is the Democratic nominee in the Sixth District, where he is running against lightning rod Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann and Bob Anderson, a Woodbury man with scant political experience who has not been endorsed by his Independence Party.

While Tinklenberg's been criticized for not running a feistier campaign, he would be a tonic for partisan-riven Washington. He's an accomplished, level-headed politician who put in his time at the local and state level and has achieved much through consensus-building. Tinklenberg's deep expertise in transportation — a key issue for this north suburban district — has already proven a valuable asset. He had the foresight to push for Hwy. 610 — a critical area artery — and the Northstar commuter rail, set to open next year.

Bachmann has little to show for her two years in office — three minor bills, one of which recognized the state's 150th birthday. The incident earlier this month when she went on MSNBC's "Hardball" and accused Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama of possibly harboring "anti-America" beliefs and calling for the media to investigate her colleagues to see who was "pro-America or anti-America" just adds to the list of bizarre incidents and statements that undercut her credibility as a political leader.

Bachmann is a culture warrior for the far-right; clearly, that's been her priority. This north-suburban district is hard hit by foreclosures and the economic downturn. It deserves a U.S. House representative who's practical, focused and results-oriented: Elwyn Tinklenberg.