by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
A voice from Greater Minnesota has entered the Republican U.S. Senate race.
St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg, of Duluth, is competing against a pack of metro Republicans to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken in 2014.
Dahlberg portrays himself a candidate with broad appeal, capable of winning votes among Independents and Democrats.
“The Republican Party cannot continue to put forward candidates that can win only in staunch Republican areas,” he said.
An attorney, Dahlberg, 51, counts broadcaster Stanley Hubbard among his early political supporters. Dahlberg recently retired from the U.S. Army Reserve; his military service included a stint in Baghdad, Iraq.
A proponent of “peace through strength,” Dahlberg counseled caution in terms of American overseas involvement. He said he feels prepared to ask sharp questions in Washington and warned against demonizing other countries.
“Too often we focus only on the political leaders and we don’t look deep down into the people,” he said. People in other countries want a good life, just like Minnesotans do, he said.
Dahlberg will focus like a “laser” on eliminating the $17 trillion national debt, if he is elected, he said. What kind of country will his 9-year-old daughter, Maiji, and other young people inherent with such massive debt, he asked.
Dahlberg expressed regret over the recent federal government shutdown, while touting his perceived skill and willingness to reach across the aisle.
Like other Republicans, Dahlberg describes the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as a clumsy, one-size-fits-all intrusion into state and local government. All Minnesotans, he said, want to assist those with pre-existing medical conditions or facing catastrophic health care emergencies.
“(But) you have a better chance that it (a government program) will be better if it’s designed locally,” Dahlberg said.
Dahlberg, who has a mentally handicapped brother living in a group home, views government as providing essential services.
“I’m for limited government, but I’m not for no government,” he said.
On the campaign trail
Not long ago, Dahlberg said, he was known only to people in Northeast Minnesota. Now Dahlberg believes he has begun to cut a larger swath.
Dahlberg is facing longtime Republican legislators Sen. Julianne Ortman and Rep. Jim Abeler, as well as businessman Mike McFadden, bison farmer Monti Moreno and Phillip Parrish in the Republican U.S. Senate scramble.
If he bests his Republican opponents — McFadden, for one, already boasts a more than $1 million campaign-war chest — Dahlberg would then face Franken, a celebrity with good approval ratings and sporting about a $4 million campaign bankroll.
Dahlberg is not dismissive of funding. Although not disclosing the amount his campaign has raised thus far — people would be surprised, he said — he said he views the ability to raise campaign dollars as separating the contenders from the “also-rans.”
“I think you have to raise $400,000 or more in a quarter to be a credible candidate in this day of age,” Dahlberg said. “And I’ve said, if you can’t raise that much money, I think the reality is you have to admit, you might have some popularity, you don’t have what’s called the legs to go the long run.”
“I would apply that to myself,” Dahlberg said of needing to clear the bar.
Dahlberg said little about his Republican opponents, saying people can make up their own minds.
“I’ve proven myself as a person who doesn’t put my finger up to the wind,” Dahlberg said.
He’s a proud fiscal conservative, undeterred by special interests, he said.
“I’m willing to have the guts to say no,” he said.
Mindful of the limited ability of the debt-plagued Minnesota Republican Party to assist candidates, Dahlberg said his campaign is designed to act independently.
In keeping in step with his campaign’s slogan of “Front Porch Leadership,” Dahlberg, in an unusual move for statewide candidates, has knocked on doors in Golden Valley, Richfield and Eden Prairie.
“We need to get away from this Hollywood, showbiz, entertainment politics,” Dahlberg said.
DFL State Party Chairman Ken Martin said he sees Dahlberg as simply one more candidate.
“There are now six Republicans competing to see who will be more extreme in the contested primary for U.S. Senate,” Martin said in a statement. “Dahlberg is just another name on a growing list.”
Dahlberg portrayed Franken as an irresolute figure, a study in contradictions.
“I would say that Mr. Franken is a senator in search of a purpose,” he said.
Dahlberg said he offers a basic conservative message, the kind former Republican President Ronald Reagan used so successfully.
“At the end of the day, what motivates all of us when we go into the voting booth isn’t our mind; it’s our heart,” Dahlberg said. “And I think sometimes that’s what Republicans forget,” he said.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected].