Campaign cash and ads are starting to flow in a hotly contested race to fill a vacant state Senate seat.
Both political parties are targeting the 11th Senate District seat mostly south of Duluth, which opened up when Gov. Tim Walz appointed DFL Sen. Tony Lourey to head the state Department of Human Services. While the district has been in DFL hands for decades, a strong showing by President Donald Trump in 2016 has given Republicans hope they can flip the district and expand their one-seat majority in the state Senate.
Campaigns have already been out knocking on doors and rolling out dueling endorsements ahead of a February 5 special election. Another sign of the competitiveness came Tuesday, as candidates filed their first campaign fundraising reports.
Stu Lourey, a former political aide to DFL politicians whose father and grandmother previously represented the district, reported raising more than $30,000. That included a $4,000 transfer from his father’s campaign account. His opponent in next Tuesday’s DFL primary, former news anchor and Eighth Congressional District candidate Michelle D. Lee, reported raising about $2,400.
Republican state Rep. Jason Rarick, who has represented half the district since 2015, reported more than $5,000 in contributions, including a $3,000 transfer from his state House account. GOP state Sen. Karin Housley, who ran for U.S. Senate last year, and her husband, NHL coach Phil Housley, each contributed $1,000 to the Kerrick, Minn., Republican’s campaign. As the sole Republican on the ballot, Rarick, 49, will not face a primary opponent.
Outside groups are expected to spend heavily in the race, though campaign finance deadlines mean such independent expenditure committees will not have to disclose what they spend until long after the election is over.
The race hit the local airwaves this week with Lourey’s first TV ad. The 30-second spot comes on the heels of a slew of labor endorsements for Lourey, 25, who resigned as a Washington-based staffer for U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and moved back to his family’s farm in Kerrick, Minn. before announcing his run.
Lee, 66, came in second in a crowded DFL primary for Congress last year. An activist from Moose Lake, she has countered with endorsements of her own, including Women Winning and former Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon. She responded on Twitter to being vastly outraised, saying it “doesn’t take a lot of gas money to get out and listen to the voters of my district and provide them with a voice in St. Paul.”
The winner of the Jan. 22 primary between Lee and Lourey will face Rarick and Legal Marijuana Now candidate John “Sparky” Birrenbach in a February 5 general election to fill the final two years of Tony Lourey’s term.