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Democrats dream of congressional vote

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ST. PAUL - Minnesota Democrats like their chances to take at least seven of Minnesota's congressional seats this fall - and they plan a strong campaign for the eighth.

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Capitalizing two years ago on a nationwide wave of election victories, Democrats seized a majority of the state's congressional seats, including ousting a veteran Republican in southern Minnesota.

Now, with seven months until the 2008 general election, Democrats want to retain that seat and take up to three more even as the GOP looks to reverse its 2006 losses.

"They're all targets, and I think we've got a pretty good shot at all of them," Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Brian Melendez said of Minnesota's eight districts, of which his party now controls five.

Momentum appears in Democrats' favor.

They apparently have a lock on two urban Twin Cities seats. No Republican challenger has stepped forward to take on Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar of north-central and northeastern Minnesota. Rep. Collin Peterson of western Minnesota will have a Republican challenger, but has won with more than 65 percent of the vote in his last seven re-election contests.

Meanwhile, freshman Democratic Rep. Tim Walz in southern Minnesota has built up an impressive campaign war chest.

Like Walz, first-term Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann is sitting on more than $1 million, but Democrats see her as particularly vulnerable.

Plus, for the first time in two generations, a congressional seat in the western Twin Cities suburbs is considered a toss-up after popular GOP Rep. Jim Ramstad, announced his retirement.

State Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey said Democrats are overly optimistic about their election chances, including the ability to protect Walz and capture the 3rd District.

"At this point it doesn't seem to be an easy year for Republicans," Carey said, "(but) it's not shaping up to be an incredibly difficult year."

St. Olaf College political scientist Dan Hofrenning said Walz looks good heading into the election cycle because he has avoided making big mistakes, carved out a moderate record and raised a lot of money.

"Walz has been a leader on the issues that play with the voters in the district," Melendez said, citing the congressman's position on veterans' issues, the Iraq war and renewable energy.

The GOP considers Walz the most vulnerable of Minnesota's seven congressional incumbents, Carey said, because he campaigned as a moderate but usually votes with liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Republicans endorsed Mayo physician Brian Davis, but he faces a primary contest this fall with state Sen. Dick Day.

Kline looks strong

Republicans' safest seat probably is the 2nd District, where formidable campaigner Rep. John Kline will seek a fourth term. Steve Sarvi is the leading Democrat in that race.

Hofrenning said Democrats probably had their best shot at ousting Kline in 2006, when FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley was the challenger.

"The district is pretty strongly Republican," said Hofrenning, a graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead.

Democrats covet Minnesota's 6th District, where Bachmann faces her first re-election battle.

Democrats depict Bachmann, a former state senator, as too extreme for the district, which stretches from the northwestern suburbs to St. Cloud.

Bachmann could be challenged by former state transportation chief Elwyn Tinklenberg, who is socially conservative.

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