Rep. Erik Paulsen (R)
Minnesota 3rd District
Over the past half century, Minnesota’s great twin metropolis has spread out from the neat streets inside the city limits of Minneapolis and St. Paul into the countryside all around. People have sorted themselves out geographically. In the lower lands along the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, where rail lines fan out from the Twin Cities, are the blue-collar suburbs, with modest houses on grid streets and warehouses and factories near the tracks. Inland, around the lakes Minnesota is so proud of, in subdivisions with curved streets hugging the hills, are the Twin Cities’ more affluent neighborhoods, quiet and unflashy in the Minnesota way, but comfortable whether blanketed with snow or with a nearby lake glinting in the summer sun. At the edge of Lake Minnetonka is Wayzata, the monied suburb that is the top ZIP code in Minnesota for political donations. In between are the freeway interchanges where some of the Twin Cities’ great innovations can be seen—Southdale Shopping Center in Edina, the first enclosed mall and site of the first B. Dalton store, which begat the national book chains; huge indoor water parks; and the giant Mall of America, with its 4.2 million square feet, 520 stores, 86 eating options, 14 theaters, eight nightclubs and 11,000 year-round employees. Another nearly 6 million square feet, which include a 5,000-seat performing arts center and a rail connection to downtown Minneapolis, are in the works. The mall is the nation’s No. 1 tourist attraction, attracting 40 million people annually.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 3rd Congressional District of Minnesota takes in Hennepin County suburbs north, south and west of Minneapolis. On the north side of the district is working-class Brooklyn Park, long a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party stronghold but more famous now for its former mayor, Jesse Ventura, the celebrity wrestler-turned-governor. On the south is middle-income Bloomington, home of the Mall of America. To the west are Edina, Plymouth, Wayzata and other towns around Lake Minnetonka, all traditionally Republican. It is the district’s largest lake, and these are the most affluent communities in the Twin Cities area. The district is home to the headquarters of such diverse companies as Cargill and Radisson Hotels, and has large biotech facilities in Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove. This area trended Democratic in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton twice won pluralities here. The 3rd may be the home of Minnesota’s traditional Republican establishment, but it voted just 51% for George W. Bush in 2004. In 2008, it flipped to the Democratic column, voting for Barack Obama 52%-46%.
Rep. Erik Paulsen (R)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: May 14, 1965, Bakersfield, CA .
Home: Eden Prairie.
Education: Olaf Col., B.A. 1987.
Family: Married (Kelly); 4 children.
Elected office: MN House, 1995-2008, Majority ldr., 2002-06.
Professional Career: Marketing analyst, Target Corp.
The new congressman from the 3rd District is Erik Paulsen, a Republican elected in 2008 to succeed his retiring former boss, Republican Rep. Jim Ramstad. Raised in the Twin City suburbs, Paulsen was the oldest of four children. He attended nearby St. Olaf College, where he met his wife, Kelly, in a math class. After graduation, Paulsen followed a lifelong dream to work a summer in Yellowstone National Park, then returned to the Twin Cities to begin a career in marketing. He later took a job in Ramstad’s Washington office, where he worked for a year and a half before returning to Minnesota as the director of Ramstad’s district office. In 1995, he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives, rising to majority leader in 2003. He was a leading supporter of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s no-new-taxes pledge. While in the Legislature, Paulsen also worked as a business analyst for the Minneapolis-based Target Corp.
|Erik Paulsen (R)||178,932||(48%)||($2,744,927)|
|Ashwin Madia (DFL)||150,787||(41%)||($2,726,040)|
|David Dillon (Ind)||38,970||(11%)||($161,181)|
|Erik Paulsen (R)||Unopposed|
Paulsen announced his candidacy for Ramstad’s seat in January 2008. He faced no competition for the nomination and got an early fundraising lead. Democratic newcomer Ashwin Madia, an Iraq war veteran, was his opponent in the general election. Madia had upset better-known state Sen. Terri Bonoff to secure the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nomination, and he soon pulled even with Paulsen in the polls, making it a very competitive contest. At the Republican National Convention in September in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Paulsen was given a speaking role to help raise his profile. In his remarks, he emphasized fiscal discipline and called himself “one of a new generation of Republican reformers.” On the stump, he emphasized his differences with Madia on taxes, contrasting his support for making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent with Madia’s position allowing them to expire for people with annual incomes over $250,000.
The campaign was punctuated by negative ads. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee invested heavily in the race, with ads that attempted to link Paulsen to a Republican fundraiser at a Las Vegas strip club. Madia disavowed those attacks, but Paulsen complained that Madia could have had them pulled but didn’t. Hitting back, Paulsen charged in his ads that Madia was lying about his own voting record and said Madia would vote for tax increases. The National Republican Congressional Committee ran an ad in the final days of the campaign that the Madia camp said deliberately depicted Madia’s skin tone as darker than it is. Madia is of Indian descent. The NRCC denied it. Groups supporting Madia outspent Paulsen’s backers nearly 4-to-1. The two candidates were neck and neck in fundraising, each raising $2.7 million. A third candidate, businessman David Dillon, ran as an independent. He raised little money but campaigned energetically.
Polls going into voting showed a tight race. Paulsen emerged the winner, with 48% to Madia’s 41%. Dillon picked up a respectable 11%, drawing support in areas where Madia needed to perform well. Even as Obama won the district by 6 percentage points, Paulsen got strong support in Bloomington and Coon Rapids to ward off the national Democratic wave.
Paulsen was appointed to the House Financial Services Committee, where the first bill he sponsored was a measure to recoup some of the big executive bonuses paid by AIG after the failing insurance giant was bailed out by the government.