Numerous last-minute challengers surfaced Tuesday -- the final day of the two-week candidate filing period -- including candidates running against incumbent state Reps. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato; Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter; and Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont.
But Mankato Democratic Sen. Kathy Sheran and Good Thunder Republican Rep. Tony Cornish learned that Nov. 6 will be a formality. They have no opponent and are headed to another term in the Legislature.
It's the first time in decades that Mankato voters won't see at least two competing candidates in one of the city's legislative races.
"Nobody down here at the office can remember a time when any of our candidates have run unopposed," said Jan Weir, a veteran DFL activist, after quizzing others at a meeting of the Senate District 19 DFL officers.
Sheran, first elected to the Senate in 2006 after serving four terms on the Mankato City Council, called it "an unusual experience" to be facing an election knowing the result five months in advance.
"I am hopeful that it means people are satisfied with my representation," Sheran said.
Local real estate agent and auctioneer Willa Dailey was seriously considering a run for the Senate seat but ultimately decided to focus her political efforts on supporting state Sen. Mike Parry's congressional run and Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
"I thought I could be more effective making a difference at that if I'm not also trying to run my own campaign," said Dailey, who was director of the Mankato office of John McCain's presidential run in 2008. "There's only so many hours in a day."
Cornish admitted some relief as 5 p.m. passed and no Democrat's name appeared next to his on the Secretary of State's list of candidate filings.
"It makes for a lot easier summer and a lot less stress," said Cornish, who has won five elections to the House but had a tough race as recently as 2008 when he won by less than 3 percentage points over John Branstad.
He echoed Sheran, however, in saying he won't be relaxing this summer, continuing to walk in community parades and attend every public event he can get to.
"The worst thing a legislator can do is get too cocky and think they're unbeatable," Cornish said. "... So I guess I'll just keep doing what I'm doing."
Sheran said campaigning serves a purpose beyond winning votes.
"The door-to-door (canvassing) is really great at getting past the hype that's in the letters to the editor and on the blogs," she said. "... You get a more accurate feel for what people are thinking about the economy and about how their government's doing."
Thad Shunkwiler's filing against Brynaert guarantees Mankato voters -- and those in Skyline, Eagle Lake and much of Mankato Township Ñ will have a choice to make on the legislative portion of their ballot.
A Mankato Republican, Shunkwiler is a member of the Minnesota National Guard, an adjunct faculty member at Minnesota State University and formerly a psychologist at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center. He's currently a faculty researcher at the University of Minnesota, involved in a study of parenting by members of the military after a deployment.
Shunkwiler's only previous run for public office was an unsuccessful 2011 campaign for the Mankato School Board.
For the second straight election, Morrow will be facing a recent college graduate -- although this time Mankato voters will be part of the electorate picking between the college professor and the student. New political lines drawn after the 2010 census created District 19A, which includes several thousand Mankatoans, along with all Nicollet County residents and those in Kasota, Lime Township and parts of Kasota and Mankato townships.
In 2010, the Gustavus Adolphus College instructor faced Rebecca Peichel, who had just graduated with a political science degree from the College of St. Benedict. This year, Nikolas Boyce, R-rural New Ulm, said he decided to put off career-development after graduating this spring from Bethany Lutheran College with a business administration degree.
Boyce, who lives with his parents in Nicollet County just across the Minnesota River from New Ulm, said he became more active in grass-roots politics in recent years and is concerned about the direction of the state and nation.
"It's a pretty important time," he said.
A flood of late filers
Gunther, who's never received less than 60 percent of the vote in his nine House elections and was without an opponent three times, will have a contest in 2012. Kevin Labenz, DFL-Welcome, filed Tuesday for House District 23A -- which includes most of Faribault County.
Labenz, 30, spent several years in Tokyo after graduating from Hamline University and is now doing general farm work in the pork industry. Making his first run for public office, Labenz said he was motivated to run by the lack of jobs and lack of opportunities for young people in rural southern Minnesota. He hopes to change that if elected to the House.
Craig Brenden, DFL-Waseca, was another last-day filer Ñ filling the DFL slot in District 24A which opened up with the retirement of two-term state Rep. Kory Kath, DFL-Owatonna. Like Kath, Brenden is a teacher and serves as an intermediate school band director. He's also a longtime member of the Army National Guard.
And the DFL-endorsed candidate in Senate District 16 made his candidacy official on the final day. Ted Suss, DFL-Lucan, will challenge freshman Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, in the district that includes Brown County.
Suss, the superintendent of Wabasso public schools, served in the Minnesota House for four years in the 1970s.
The Republican-endorsed candidate against Brenden is John Petersburg, a Waseca resident and administrator of a Lutheran church in Owatonna. But a third Wasecan also jumped into the race Tuesday. Republican Larry Johnson, a member of the Waseca City Council, will face off with Petersburg in the Aug. 14 primary election to see who will be the GOP opponent against Brenden on Nov. 6.
Another Republican primary will be required in Senate District 20. Endorsed Republican Senate candidate Mike Dudley of Northfield learned Tuesday that he will have to win twice to reach the Capitol -- on Aug. 14 against late-filing Republican Gene Kornder of Belle Plaine and against former state Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, in the general election. District 20, left vacant by redistricting, includes most of Le Sueur County.
A third candidate also made his way on to the ballot -- the hard way -- in House District 16B. Jerry "Pike" Pagel of New Ulm is running as an independent in the district, which includes all of Brown County. As an independent, the former car dealer and driving instructor had to get on the ballot by petition -- gathering 500 names by the filing deadline.
Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Lake Hanska, and Democratic challenger James Kanne of Franklin are the major party candidates in District 16B.