A rematch of a close area legislative 2000 race and controversy surrounding a city council race are making the 2002 election one to watch.
In 2000 just 411 votes separated incumbent Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd, and challenger Paul Koering for the Senate District 12 seat, with Samuelson defeating Koering 19,274-18,863. Koering also unsuccessfully ran against Samuelson in a close 1996 race.
And with just two days left until election day, Samuelson and Koering again are gearing up for one last campaign push.
Whether the 2002 outcome will be as close as the 2000 outcome depends on which candidate you ask.
Samuelson said he had a feeling, in the days leading up to the 2000 election, it would be a close race. But this year he said he is feeling a little more confident about his chances for re-election, in part because of redistricting that removed the northern part of Crow Wing County from District 12.
"The northern part of Crow Wing County was his (Koering's) strength," said Samuelson, and he believes without the northern part of the county he would have taken the whole county in 2000. Koering won that area 13,954-13,780.
Koering disagreed with Samuelson's assessment and said he is optimistic in this third bid for the Senate District 12 seat.
"I don't think redistricting hurt me at all," said Koering, noting the addition of southern Morrison County and the conservative residents there suits him. "My message best fits with what they believe. I've had a good response down there.
"In receiving 49 percent of the vote in 2000, I can't see it going backward from there."
Both Samuelson and Koering spent the days before the election making their final campaign push, knocking on doors and making as many public appearances as possible.
Incumbent Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd, talked with Tina Saehr while campaigning Friday in Little Falls. (Dispatch Photo by Steve Kohls)
When he first began running, Koering said he was fighting a battle for name recognition. Seven years later, he feels confident the people of District 12 know who he is. Koering also said he is comfortable with whatever the outcome of the election is.
"If it's meant to be I think that's just great. If not I can live with that," said Koering. "I feel confident that I got my message out to the people."
Even with more than 30 years as in the Legislature, Samuelson said he still gets nervous right before election time, likening it to an athlete before a game.
"Even if you're getting ready for a major issue on the Senate floor that you're the author of, you're nervous," said Samuelson.
In 1998, 24,230 people voted in Crow Wing County. In 2000, a presidential election year, 28,312 voted in Crow Wing County. Crow Wing County Auditor Roy Luukkonen said more people vote in a presidential election year.
In the Brainerd City Council election, one candidate is disavowing several statements made in The Dispatch's Open Forum section. Ward 4 candidate Hilda Lee said she had nothing to do with the controversy surrounding a current city council member's allegations of wrongdoing by other city council candidates and their involvement with the Coalition for Responsible Development.
Lee said she has had nothing to do with the coalition or with council member Bob Olson, who, along with others, has been critical of the coalition and its involvement with two city council candidates, Ed Shaw and Anne Nelson Fisher.
"The skirmish between Bob (Olson) and the coalition existed long before I filed for Ward 4 and I'm not going to be made a part of that skirmish," said Lee, who is running against Nelson Fisher for the Ward 4 seat being vacated by Debbie Olander. "It has nothing to do with me and my campaign. I'm aware of no conflict between myself, the coalition or Anne Nelson Fisher."
Lee said she has no quarrels with Olson, the coalition or Nelson Fisher.
"But I don't like being dragged into other people's battles," said Lee.
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