MANKATO — Running in a statistical dead heat, the 1st District Congressional candidates were charging hard on the campaign trail Sunday.
Both Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht of Rochester and Democrat Tim Walz of Mankato made local campaign stops intended to fire up their supporters in the final 48 hours before Election Day.
Gutknecht in Mankato
Gutknecht appeared around noon before a small crowd outside Mankato Place. It was one stop on a bus tour that would later take him to St. Peter, New Ulm and St. James.
With him was retired Army Lt. Col. Joe Repya, who warned of dire consequences if the Democrats take control of Congress. The 60-year-old veteran — who recently spent time in Iraq during a voluntary return to active duty — said Democrats would “cut and run,” leaving the country to terrorists.
“What is at stake is literally the survival of Western civilization,” Repya said.
After a visit to Iraq in July, Gutknecht called for troop withdrawals to begin immediately. Still, he said he agreed with Repya.
“If we back down here — Joe’s right — they’re going to come after us,” he said.
Gutknecht acknowledged many are “frustrated” by a lack of progress in Iraq. But he said voters will stick with Republicans based on pocketbook issues.
He said southern Minnesotans seem more satisfied with the economy now than ever “in my lifetime.”
“We’ve never had a better farm economy,” he said.
When asked what influenced their support of Gutknecht, Stacy and Beverly Reichel of North Mankato put social issues ahead of taxes and war. They supported the Republican stance against gay marriage and abortion.
“We want morality, we want integrity, we want good values,” Stacy Reichel said.
Franken tours with Walz
An 8 p.m. rally at Gustavus Adolphus College was the last stop for Walz Sunday, whose six-city bus tour Sunday began in Owatonna. With him was comedian Al Franken, who walked with Walz in the St. Peter Fourth of July parade.
Walz mentioned passing the Gutknecht bus on the road, and told his supporters not to underestimate the Republican campaign effort in the final days.
“We’ve got 48 hours,” he said. “This thing is won on the ground.”
In his effort to inspire the troops, Walz spent little time discussing the details of his platform. Instead, he focused on the big picture.
“Once in a generation, you get an opportunity to make a massive change,” he said, referring to the potential Democratic take-over of Congress.
Franken took the stage next, running through a few of the jokes he told on a morale-boosting visit to the troops in Iraq. But the laughter died down when Franken choked up talking about how the feeling of unity after Sept. 11 had been squandered.
“We Americans, we’ve got to get back together,” he said in a broken voice.
“This president and the Congress had an opportunity to lead,” Franken continued. “... Instead they hijacked 9/11 and used it for political purposes.”
That may not have been what Gustavus senior Emily Petraitis expected when she showed up for the rally. A Walz supporter, Petraitis said before the rally she was there mostly to see Franken.
Petraitis said she was voting Democratic because the party seemed more concerned about youth issues, like student loan debt. But she also expressed a strong desire for change.
“I’m tired of Republicans,” she said.