Congressional candidate from Southern Minnesota finds volunteers, financial boost in city
On a chilly Sunday afternoon in early December, more than 50 people gathered in Linden Hills to celebrate the victory of a newly elected Democratic member of Congress many of them had campaigned or supported financially.
While the Congressman-elect took the opportunity to thank the many Minneapolis residents who bolstered his campaign, he won't be representing the city on Capitol Hill. Instead, Tim Walz will represent the far southern portion of the state in Minnesota's First Congressional District. The high school teacher and coach from Mankato beat six-term Republican incumbent Gil Gutknecht by 6 percentage points, a win he said he couldn't have pulled off without the support he received from Minneapolis DFLers.
The individual contributions to Walz's campaign from people who listed Minneapolis as their home address totaled more than $75,000 as of mid-October and accounted for 12 percent of all the individual contributions he received, according to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission. Those reports only track donations of $200 or more.
Walz estimates he was in Minneapolis dozens of times for fundraising events that, toward the end of his campaign, raised thousands of dollars per hour. Joel Bergstrom, the chair of Senate District 60, hosted one fundraiser for Walz that raised an estimated $6,000. Bergstrom was part of a Camp Wellstone class - a training program for progressive political action designed to give people the tools to run for office or be politically involved - that included Walz and a number of other Minneapolis political figures, including Councilmembers Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) and Ralph Remington (10th Ward) and Secretary of State-elect Mark Ritchie. The classmates have stayed in contact, and Bergstrom led the effort to increase support for Walz in Minneapolis. It was important for Walz to garner the support of Minneapolis DFLers, Bergstrom said, because political fundraising is more difficult in the First Congressional District.
“The money is just not as prevalent down there in terms of political fundraising, no matter who you are - a national candidate, a local candidate, whoever,” Bergstrom said. “That's not where you raise a lot of money. So you have to come up here.”
But Walz said just as important as the fundraisers were the more than 1,000 Minneapolis residents who volunteered to work phone banks and knock on doors in the First Congressional District. That, he said, boosted the enthusiasm of his volunteers and the district's constituents.
“They saw it as the cavalry coming in,” Walz said.
Karen Sandberg, a 64-year-old retiree who lives in the First Congressional District city of Oronoco and is Glidden's mother-in-law, said at first she was surprised at the number of volunteers who arrived from Minneapolis and other areas outside the district. But she said she enjoyed working with all of the volunteers and never felt any tension between the district's residents and those who came from others areas of the state to help out.
“I think we all felt like we were in it together,” said Sandberg.
Glidden said she thinks what attracted her mother-in-law to Walz's campaign is what drew Minneapolis residents to it as well - his charismatic personality and background as a high school teacher, coach and National Guard solider.
“They saw this was a guy who really could win,” Glidden said.
Wellstone Action Executive Director Jeff Blodgett worked with Walz during the Camp Wellstone class almost two years ago. He said Walz exceeded almost all of his expectations, including his ability to generate support in the metro area.
“Everyone tries to come to the [Twin] Cities to build support,” Blodgett said. “I think Tim had stronger metro-area support than anyone I've seen.”
Walz told supporters gathered at Linden Hills resident Tom Braun's home - where they were greeted with a long marquee proclaiming “It's Walz Time!” - that garnering regional support is important because the issues he's going to work on in Washington, D.C. don't stop at the border of his district.
Councilmember Remington said that's exactly why many Minneapolis residents were invested in Walz's campaign. “We know it's a regional thing. It's a statewide thing. We have to think beyond our parochial boundaries and about what we're trying to accomplish,” Remington said.