Top House Democrat: Shutdown will be an issue in Kline and Paulsen’s districts

WASHINGTON — The Democrat in charge of putting his party back in control of the U.S. House says voters in Minnesota’s 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts, which are represented by Republicans, can expect to hear plenty next year about last month’s partial government shutdown. He also argued the current struggles Democrats face with the roll out of the Affordable Care Act are unlikely to hold a lasting impact for his party.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, characterized those problems as transitory but said the shutdown was a political earthquake that could lead to the House GOP losing its 17 seat majority.

The 2nd and 3rd Districts are in the DCCC’s sights because voters in both districts narrowly favored President Barack Obama last year over Republican Mitt Romney even as they gave Republican Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen new terms in office. There are just 18 districts nationwide that saw similar partisan splits.

Neither Kline nor Paulsen is affiliated with the tea party-backed lawmakers most closely associated with the shutdown and both were among just 87 House Republicans to vote yes on the bill to reopen the government. Israel said despite votes such, neither lawmaker had a moderate voting record and characterized both as belonging to “the fool all the people all of the time caucus.”

Still, it’s clear Democrats have an uphill battle ahead of them. Paulsen still hasn’t drawn a DFL challenger and has $1.5 million in his campaign war chest. The DCCC recruited businesswoman Sona Mehring to challenge Kline but she dropped out of the race after only a month. Kline’s 2012 opponent, Mike Obermueller, is challenging him again next year.* Kline defeated Obermueller by 8 percentage points last year and has $1.3 million in the bank, more than 10 times Obermueller’s reserves. DFLer Thomas Craft is also vying for the seat.

“You learn lessons,” said Israel of Obermueller. “Obermueller didn’t close the deal in 2012 but may be able to in 2014 because the shutdown has been so searing.”

As for Paulsen’s race, Israel argued that the window had not closed for a viable Democratic candidate to get involved but would only say the DCCC was “talking to somebody” when asked who that candidate might be.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post did not mention that DFL candidate Thomas Craft is also running for the 2nd District seat. This post has been updated and corrected.