by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
Democrat Jim Read described his abrupt transformation with a bit of college humor.
“I’m now the political scientist who goes from being an analyst to a data point,” he quipped.
A professor of political science with the College of St. Benedict, Read recently announced his candidacy in the 6th Congressional District. Read has taught at College of St. Benedict for 25 years.
In part, Read was nudged into running for the House by the recent federal government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff, he said.
Also, Read – who saw no other credible, declared Democratic candidates in the race – said he felt Democrats shouldn’t meekly let another Republican claim Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s congressional seat without a contest. Bachmann is not seeking re-election.
“I didn’t intend to get in,” Read, of Avon, said.
“(But) it signaled to me a really dangerous turn in the American politics that’s likely to last for a long time, unless voters clearly signal that they oppose that kind of politics,” he said of Washington gridlock.
Born in Chicago, Read, 55, grew up in a political family. His parents were active environmentalists and Read remembers being introduced to lawmakers and attending congressional hearings as a child.
“I thought all kids got the chance to meet members of Congress and go to hearings. And it gave me the idea that Congress was something that could work,” Read said.
Read holds a doctorate from Harvard University. He is the author of three books on politics.
He views his academic background as rounding himself out as a candidate.
“The ordinary person doesn’t think much about how to fix Congress. I do,” he said.
Read’s baptism of fire in electoral politics occurred in 1992 when he ran for the Minnesota House. He lost by 98 votes, but the experience was valuable, he said.
“I know what it’s like to run as a Democrat in shaky territory,” Read said.
Read stressed the need for a campaign with a strong ground game — an active group of savvy volunteers. Dollars alone won’t bring victory.
“It’s not going to be possible by raising money, raising money and then doing an October media blast,” Read said. “It can work for a Republican. It won’t work for a Democrat here (in the 6th).”
Still, Read views some political factors as working in his favor.
For one thing, it’s likely the Republican congressional scramble will result in a primary contest.
“So they’re (Republicans) raising money, but they’re raising money against each other right now,” Read said.
Further, Read said he suspects there might be a certain exhaustion among traditional Republican voters, resulting in a willingness to consider options.
First, there’s “Bachmann fatigue,” he theorized. But beyond this, Republican voters, some of whom vote for economic reasons, could be sensing the hard-liners in the Republican Party threaten economic growth rather than champion it, Read said.
The 6th District was one of the hardest-hit areas in the state by the Great Recession, Read said.
“If I can convince people that I will bring more economic opportunity to the district than the opposition, I’m in,” he said. “The burden of proof is on us.”
The 6th District economy is driven by small to moderate-sized business, and Read said he believes he has recently gained insight into the business world by confronting a bureaucratic maze in launching his congressional campaign.
Read described himself as a fiscal moderate. But he voted against last fall’s marriage amendment, he said, and as congressman would vote to scrap the remaining federal Defense of Marriage law, he said.
He views the debate over same-sex marriage as intergenerational.
“College Republicans are more comfortable with this (same-sex marriage) than Democrats of my generation are,” Read said.
Read said he sees college and university students as potential backers, more likely to vote for him than a Republican.
But they have to turn out.
“This midterm election is as important as any presidential election you’re going to vote in for a long time,” Read said.
One other Democrat, Judy Adams, of Circle Pines, has declared her 6th District congressional candidacy. City of Sartell Mayor Joe Perske has indicated he intends to run but hasn’t formally entered the race.
Sixth District DFL Chairman Bill Usher does not expect other Democratic candidates. Right now, they’re “pretty settled,” he said.
Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, showed cautious optimism about the outcome of the congressional race. The 6th District is a very strong Republican district, she said.
But she doesn’t assume the election outcome is assured.
“I don’t believe in assuming,” she said.
Republicans Tom Emmer, Phil Krinkie, John Pederson and Rhonda Sivarajah are vying for the Republican candidate slot.
Republican 6th District Chairman Luke Yurczyk said Republican congressional candidates know that they have to work hard, but he expressed confidence Republicans will “emerge triumphant” in the election.
It’s too early to tell whether there will be a Republican primary or not, Yurczyk said.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected].