It’s a legislative race that hasn’t been getting much statewide attention — until now.
That’s because newly released campaign finance reports show an outside Democratic group is pumping big money into House District 28B with the goal of defeating longtime Preston Republican Rep. Greg Davids. As of Sept. 20, Alliance for a Better Minnesota had spent more than $113,000 on radio ads, TV spots and mailers in support of Spring Grove DFLer Thomas Trehus. Conservative groups have fought back, with the Pro-Jobs Majority and the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee forking out more than $50,000 for anti-Trehus ads.
Trehus points to the influx of outside cash as proof that he has got a good shot at defeating the 12-term incumbent.
“It’s actually been quite a surprise to see the influx of outside money. But I knew six months ago that I had a good shot at it, and I don’t think anyone else really knew that. But obviously, outside groups have done polling and they’ve realized that themselves,” Trehus said.
But Davids dismisses the idea that he is in any political danger. While talking to a reporter, he was busy putting up campaign signs in the district.
“You need to personally be out there showing folks that you are working hard, and that’s what’s going on,” he said.
Davids has been defeated before. In 2006, he lost to DFLer Ken Tschumper by 52 votes. Two years later, the Preston Republican won back the seat. Recent elections show mixed results for Democrats. In 2012, district voters favored Democrat Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney. Two years later, district voters backed Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson over DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
Alliance for a Better Minnesota has already spent nearly $2 million to support DFL candidates across the state, according to the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. ABM Spokeswoman Susie Merthan said the group believe Trehus a good shot at defeating Davids.
“(Trehus) lives on a family farm in the district. He’s focused on creating opportunities for everybody — not just the wealthy — and focusing on education and things that working families care about, like paid family leave,” Merthan said.
Pro-Republican groups have been pushing back, spending money on ads and mailers attacking Trehus. Pro Jobs Majority, which is linked to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, has spent more than $36,000 attacking Trehus. The group’s chairman, Bill Blazar, declined to comment, saying the group does not discuss spending on specific races.
A recent mailer paid for by the Republican Party of Minnesota features a picture of a baby in a diaper. It states that the baby can stand up and say no but “liberal politician Thomas Trehus can’t say no to his liberal party bosses.”
GOP Party Chairman Keith Downey said he is confident that Davids will win re-election this fall.
“Greg Davids, like any incumbent, has to take the race seriously. He is one of the leaders of our caucus, chair of the tax committee. No wonder they would try to target the district,” Downey said.
But Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin said recent polling shows Trehus has a chance at defeating the Republican incumbent.
“It’s become much more competitive. We’ve seen in our research that we’ve got an opportunity to win there,” Martin said.
On the campaign trail, Trehus said he is hearing plenty of voters talking about their frustration with legislative inaction in St. Paul. That includes the failure of lawmakers and the governor to reach a deal on tax cuts, transportation funding and millions in statewide construction projects.
“You look at all those factors and it’s a really good time to be running against a longtime, establishment incumbent,” Trehus said.
Davids counters that what he hears from voters at the door is frustration about the size of government. He also predicts that having Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the top of the ticket will help his campaign in the rural district.
The mood among voters “isn’t anti-incumbent. It’s anti-government and there’s a big difference,” Davids said. “And so if you have been advocating more reasonable, more responsible government, it’s very positive.”
Here are some local races that have attracted big spending:
House District 21A: Democrat Lisa Bayley and Republican Barb Haley, both of Red Wing, are battling for the open seat. A review of reports shows this race has so far attracted the most outside money of any race in Southeast Minnesota — a grand total of more than $167,000. So far, conservative groups have the advantage, spending more than $118,000 in support of Haley and against Bayley.
Senate District 21: Freshman DFL Sen. Matt Schmit is facing off against Republican Mike Goggin. More than $152,000 from outside groups has already poured into the district. Democrats have the advantage so far with more than $127,000 being spent on behalf of Schmit.
House District 25B: Former GOP Rep. Fran Bradley and DFLer Duane Sauke are competing for the open Rochester seat. More than $108,000 has been spent on ads and mailers in the district by outside groups. The vast majority of that money — more than $88,000 — has been in support of Sauke.
Originally published in the Post-Bulletin.