MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- After losing to Bill Luther in 1998 and 2000, Republican John Kline said he likely wouldn't be back for a third try against the Democratic congressman.
"What would I do differently?" Kline wondered.
It turned out Kline didn't have to do anything new. Redistricting put the two old foes in a new district this year, and Kline cruised to victory Tuesday night, 54 percent to 42 percent, with 82 percent of precincts reporting.
"I'm relieved," Kline said after his 2nd District victory. "It's been a long campaign."
"I know what the other feeling is," he added, "and this is all the difference in the world."
Initially, Kline appeared to have avoided a second rematch with Luther. Redistricting left Kline's home in the new 2nd District and Luther's in a newly formed 6th.
But Luther decided to switch into the 2nd rather than take on an incumbent, Rep. Mark Kennedy, in the new 6th.
Luther was hurt this year by the taint of a scheme in which his campaign aide encouraged a sham candidate to run to siphon votes from Kline.
Luther, a four-term incumbent, also wasn't helped by running in a largely unfamiliar district. The new 2nd, which extends from the southern edge of the Twin Cities to Red Wing, Faribault and LeSueur, includes less than half of Luther's old district.
The victory by Kline, a retired Marine Corps colonel, will give Republicans a 4-4 split in the state's House delegation next year, the most the GOP has had since 1982. Currently, the state has five Democrats and three Republicans.
In the state's other closely watched race, Kennedy, a freshman Republican, easily turned back a challenge from wealthy Democratic attorney Janet Robert, 57 percent to 35 percent, with 77 percent of precincts reporting.
Also Tuesday, incumbents Jim Ramstad, Martin Sabo, Gil Gutknecht, Jim Oberstar, Collin Peterson and Betty McCollum cruised to easy re-election.
Luther's chief of staff, Bob Decheine, encouraged Democratic activist Sam Garst to run as a member of the "No New Taxes Party" to siphon votes from Kline. Garst won 4 percent of the vote.
Kline said the ploy backfired on Luther.
"There's an irony there, of course, because they put him on the ballot to strip votes from me," Kline said.
Luther apologized for the scheme, though he maintained he knew nothing about it beforehand. But Republicans and Kline seized on it as their main campaign issue.
Luther, 57, fought back with an ad assailing "Texan John Kline," saying Kline, 55, had accepted campaign contributions from Enron CEO Ken Lay.
Robert, a wealthy Democratic attorney, loaned her campaign at least $1.6 million and ran a television advertising blitz challenging Kennedy's stance on corporate accountability issues and Social Security.
The campaign was a mudfest, waged mostly via vitriolic TV ads. "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but lies will never hurt you," Kennedy crowed after his victory, referring to Robert's ads.
He said that his 22-point margin "reflects how energized my base was by the lies told about me ... People are rewarded by a positive, issue-oriented campaign."
Ramstad, a Republican, topped Democrat Darryl Stanton in the 3rd District; Sabo, a Democrat, rolled past Republican Daniel Mathias in the 5th District; Gutknecht, a Republican, defeated Democrat Steve Andreasen in the 1st; Peterson, a Democrat, turned back the GOP's Dan Stevens in the 7th; Oberstar, a Democrat, defeated Republican Bob Lemen in the 8th, and McCollum, a Democrat, beat Clyde Billington in the 4th.
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