MANKATO — Democratic Congressman Tim Walz of Mankato won a fourth term to the U.S. House Tuesday, easily topping Republican challenger Allen Quist — a former state lawmaker from St. Peter attempting a political comeback after nearly a quarter century out of office.
Walz had picked up 58 percent of the vote to 42 percent for Quist with 695 of 695 precincts counted just before 6 a.m. today. The incumbent’s margin was wide enough that Quist, a retired farmer and Bethany Lutheran College instructor, conceded shortly before 11 p.m. on election night.
Walz — a Mankato West High School teacher and defensive coordinator for the Scarlet football team prior to his 2006 upset victory over 12-year-incumbent Rep. Gil Gutknecht of Rochester — sounded like a coach addressing his players after a championship game victory.
“This isn’t about our team winning tonight,” Walz thundered to a cheering crowd at the City Center Hotel in Mankato. “It’s about America winning.”
He focused as much on President Barack Obama’s re-election as his own, saying that Tuesday’s results guaranteed that the American middle class would continue to be at the center of federal policy and that the health care reform known as Obamacare will not be repealed.
“We made a choice to stay the course,” Walz said. “... The American people affirmed it tonight.”
At Quist’s election party in Mankato Place just three blocks away, the mood was much more somber, a deflation that began when the presidential race was called for Obama. Dave Kruse, the GOP chair of the 1st District, said Republicans are “very concerned” about what an Obama victory means to the country — particularly the impact on the national debt.
At 10:47 p.m., Quist called about 30 family members to the stage — perhaps a third of his remaining supporters in the room — and said he’d just called Walz to concede.
He exhorted his followers to keep on fighting, quoting Winston Churchill: “We will never give up ... never, never, never give up.”
But for voters, Walz was the clear choice.
Mankatoan Bill Enger Sr., voting at Hosanna Lutheran Church, said the congressional choice was an easy one.
“Quist I wouldn’t vote for, period,” said Enger, a Korean War veteran. “I just don’t feel that he’s got the right things to offer. Walz has been in there, and he’s done a lot for the vets, and I think he’s doing the best he can with what he’s got to work with.”
Retiree Judy Perry was also voting at the polling place in the middle-class hilltop neighborhood.
“Tim Walz, I just like him,” Perry said. “There’s just something about the guy I like and trust.”
With a solid majority of 1st District residents apparently sharing those attitudes, the general election campaign was the quietest southern Minnesota congressional race since 2004 when Gutknecht picked up a 25-percentage-point win in his final victory.
From late in the 2006 campaign, when outside groups belatedly recognized that Walz was on the verge of an upset, the national political parties and affiliated interest groups have been pouring money into the 1st District congressional races year after year — until this year.
In 2012, most of the brawling in the 1st District occurred with Walz watching from the sidelines as Quist and Waseca state Sen. Mike Parry conducted an increasingly contentious battle for the party nomination through the winter and spring.
More than 300 Republican delegates found themselves deadlocked at an April endorsing convention in Mankato — despite 14 hours and 23 rounds of balloting. The failure to unify behind a candidate meant the intra-party combat would continue through the Aug. 14 primary election, and the two Republicans spent July and August bloodying each other.
Quist defeated Parry in the primary election and advanced to the November ballot for the first time since losing a 1990 legislative election when he was attempting to return to the state House seat he’d lost in 1988.
But by the time Republican voters finally settled on by-then-bruised Quist, national Republican Party officials and conservative special interest groups appeared to have given up any hope of unseating Walz.