Declaring himself an heir to the common-sense political tradition of Jim Ramstad and Bill Frenzel, GOP state Rep. Erik Paulsen officially announced his candidacy Sunday for the Third Congressional District seat held by the two Republicans for nearly 40 years.

"Congress as an institution is broken, and if elected I intend to help fix it," Paulsen told a Minnetonka school gym jammed with cheering supporters for his kickoff.

Paulsen, 42, is the only Republican in the open-seat race, which became competitive when the popular Ramstad announced in September that he would not seek reelection. Paulsen has represented Eden Prairie in the Legislature since 1995 and was House majority leader from 2002 to 2006.

On the DFL side, state Sen. Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka, Edina Mayor Jim Hovland and Iraq veteran Ashwin Madia of Plymouth are seeking their party's endorsement.

There continue to be reports that Ramstad is wavering in his decision to retire, but Paulsen said Ramstad assured him that he hasn't changed his mind.

Ramstad also told Paulsen that he won't make a personal endorsement until after the party settles on a candidate, much as Frenzel did when he stepped down in 1990 and made room for Ramstad.

Paulsen, a financial adviser, got his feet wet in politics first as a legislative director for Ramstad and later as the congressman's district director.

His announcement Sunday was no surprise. After Ramstad announced his plans, Paulsen filed paperwork as a candidate and began to raise money. He recently announced that he raised nearly $390,000 in the last quarter of 2007, almost $90,000 more than Bonoff, the top DFL fundraiser in the race.

Standing in front of supporters, including his parents, his wife, Kelly, and their four daughters, who range in age from 6 to 14, Paulsen pledged to work for accountable government, a strong national defense and pro-growth economic policies.

He said he would be a responsible steward of the public purse and chided Republicans as well as Democrats for increasing spending. "I will work to reacquaint my own party with the principles of fiscal discipline," he said.

Asked later for his view on the recent economic stimulus package, Paulsen said that it was a start and that he favored making tax cuts permanent as a long-term solution. On whether U.S. troops should be pulled out of Iraq, he said a premature withdrawal could make the country a terrorist haven. Former Gov. Al Quie, who attended Paulsen's rally, said the candidate is "such a solid guy," thoughtful and well-traveled.

DFLers, on the other hand, said that Paulsen has an "extremely conservative" record that makes him a bad fit for the Third District, considered favorable turf for moderates.

"If you want to judge him, look at his record," said state DFL chair Brian Melendez. "His record is that he is an obstructionist and not a leader."

In other political news from the weekend, the Independence Party of Minnesota voted Saturday to join the Independence Party of America. Frank MacKay, chairman of the national Independence Party, said Minnesota has the second-largest state party in the country, behind New York's.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455