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Capitol Chatter: Minnesota House races get noticed nationally

ST. PAUL – Two U.S. House races in Minnesota are getting far more national attention than usual.

ABC News lists House district campaigns across the northern and western parts of the state as two of the five most interesting races in the country.

ABC's Noah Weiland reports that “Republicans have admitted the GOP needs to change the perception of being a party of ‘stuffy old men,’ and this year’s crop of congressional candidates could help with that makeover ... (including a) Minnesotan whose hair has earned him the nickname 'the Republican Brad Pitt.’” He also highlights “the sightless state senator who’s never lost an election.”

The Pitt lookalike is Stewart Mills, a 42-year-old Republican candidate in northern and east-central Minnesota's 8th Congressional District.

“Mills’ biggest claim to fame so far as a candidate centers on his hair, a luxurious mane...” Weiland wrote about the Brainerd resident and official in the Mills Fleet Farm business.

ABC said that Mills also is known for photos, now deleted from the Internet, of him “taking a hit from a beer bong in 2009.”

Weiland adds: “His opponent, the Democratic incumbent Rick Nolan, promises to be a difficult one. ... This is a classic newcomer vs. establishment showdown, with plenty of hair to go around.”

In western Minnesota's 7th Congressional District, the ABC report talks about Republican challenger Torrey Westrom, a 41-year-old state senator from Elbow Lake who lost his eyesight when he was 16.

“Since (his) first election in 1996, he’s never lost a campaign, and he still has a chance to defeat the Democratic incumbent Rep. Collin Peterson...” Weiland wrote.

At a Farmfest candidate forum earlier this month, Westrom used a line that is surfacing more and more. He flicked open his folded white cane and declared: “I can always say I walk softly and carry a big stick.”

Roll Call, a Washington insider publication and Website, ran a story with the headline: “Peterson’s greatest challenge yet, but GOP still looks to 2016.”

In other words, Peterson may add to his 24 years in the House in the Nov. 4 election, but even Democrats think this may be his last campaign and Westrom may have a better chance in two years.

“We’re paying attention,” Peterson told Roll Call. “We’ve never been targeted before, so we’re not exactly sure what’s going to happen.”

In the past, outside groups have not shown as much support of the Republican candidate as they have with Westrom.

Roll Call reports that the National Republican Congressional Committee has “reserved $3.2 million in spending that can be split between the 7th District and the 8th District.”

'Stick on a stick'

U.S. Sen. Al Franken has not been able to completely get away from his comic past, although he toned it down when he first ran for office six years ago.

When asked during a radio interview about his favorite State Fair food, the former “Saturday Night Live” star and writer said it was “stick on a stick.” It may not have a lot of taste, he said, but is good for a body because it has a lot of fiber.

When a smart-aleck reporter later asked if he had a comedy career in his future, Franken quickly replied that he had a comedy career “in my past.”

Looking at rural issues

State Sens. Tom Saxhaug, D-Grand Rapids, and Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, lead a new Senate task force that this fall will look into rural Minnesota needs.

“The needs of greater Minnesota can be very different than those in the metro area,” Saxhaug said. “A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in areas that have a large amount of land and small population density."

Rosen said that issues needing a rural look include “affordable and accessible health care, nursing home access for our elderly that want to stay in their community (and) safe roads in rural areas.”

The task force meets Wednesday for the first time and plans more meetings this fall.

Davis covers the Minnesota Capitol for Forum News Service. Read his blog at

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.