All eight Republican U.S. House candidates want the same thing -- the ouster of Democratic Reps. Jim Oberstar and Collin Peterson.
"I'm running for Congress to send Mr. Oberstar to France, back where he belongs," Justin Eichorn, a Grand Rapids businessman said Monday night. Oberstar, fluent in French, has studied in France and taught in Haiti.
"I'm running again because this is the best chance we have to defeat Collin Peterson," said Glen Menze, a Starbuck businessman who faced Peterson in 2000 and 2008 in the 7th District. "This will be the first time we can actually use the fact that he really is not that 'pro-life.' You can tell this because Mr. Peterson votes with (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi more than 93 percent of the time."
The candidates -- four in the 7th and four in the 8th -- attended a two-hour forum at BSU's Beaux Arts Ballroom with about 150 people sitting in either the 7th side or the 8th side of the room. After the forum, a straw poll was taken to rank the candidates.
Chip Cravaack, a former Navy pilot and retired Northwest Airlines pilot from Lindstrom, won the 8th poll with 36 votes, far ahead of Darrel Trulson's 12 votes, who is a pastor and author of more than a dozen books from Chisago City.
Eichorn ended with five votes and Rob Farnsworth, a Hibbing special education teacher, had two votes.
Among the 7th District candidates, Willmar businessman Lee Byberg ended with 20 votes while Dr. Karen Nelson, a Spicer physician and psychologist, had five votes. Melva Larson of Bagley, a former Beltrami County commissioner had two votes. Menze collected none.
There was very little difference between the eight -- all want to repeal the health care bill that President Barack Obama signed into law last week, all support a free market economy and all would create jobs through fewer government regulation and lower taxes.
An answer to stopping the flow of red ink in Washington, they said, is to cut federal spending -- even doing away with programs that aren't mandated by the U.S. Constitution, such as the Departments of Energy and Education.
"We need to cut the federal budget at least 5 percent a year, every year, until the budget is balanced," said Farnsworth. "In addition, every federal employee, from the top down, from the president down, needs to take a 10 percent pay cut."
Federal workers are paid 40 to 60 percent more than a similar worker in the private sector, he said. "They need to be willing to make sacrifices, just like anybody else."
Cravaack, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who worked both at the Pentagon and was a senior staff officer at NATO, would take a military approach of conducting a top to bottom review of all federal spending.
"Everything's on the table," he said. "How we're going to dig out of this hole is with the free market economy. We lower the corporate tax rate, if not eliminate it, and eliminate the capital gains tax. That money right there is going to be reinvested in our companies, companies that therefore are going to create jobs. Those jobs are going to create revenue and a demand for more products. That's how we eliminate the debt and how we get America back on its feet."
"I've been an activist my whole life, in the 'pro-life' movement and the home school movement," Trulson said. "We need candidates who are not only fiscally conservative but who are also socially conservative. Candidates with experience and diversity to go to Washington and bring us back to our moral center, so our compass is realigned again, so that we can truly come back to our conservative values."
All said they admired former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin but disliked one-time presidential contender Rudy Giuliani as not being conservative enough. All said they support the Second Amendment right to bear arms and oppose laws granting same-sex marriages.
"I support the Second Amendment, not because of gun owners' rights but because we need as a country and individuals to be armed to protect ourselves from tyranny in this land," Trulson said to applause. "It's not about hunting, it's not about target practice. It's being able to stand up against an oppressive government that can take away our rights."
Among the 7th District candidates, Byberg said he has experience in agriculture, as general manager of a company that processes 17 percent of the nation's turkey eggs. Peterson is currently chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
"The big picture is that is our generation going to watch America dwindle or are we going to wake up and bring America back to the unique country that is unparalleled in human history?" said Byberg, who has lived in both Norway and South America. "We have to defend our country, move forward ... and our generation will turn a setting sun to a rising sun."
Nelson, a two-term school board member, said, "We are in a battle to save the United States of America. It's time to step up and go on the defensive. The career politicians in Washington, D.C., have placed our liberty and prosperity at great risk by creating this massive federal debt."
First, Congress needs to shrink the size of the federal government, she said. "We need to eliminate earmarks .. and it's time to get serious about waste, fraud and abuse."
Larson, who spent 10 years in Washington working for the Smithsonian Institutions and now at J.C. Penney in Bemidji, said the government is on the cliff and needs to be brought back.
"I've become concerned over the way our country is going," she said. "With a massive federal deficit, a president who is looking to expand the scope of our federal government -- demonstrated just a week ago with the take-over of the American health care system ... I decided to do something about this."
Larson was asked the only agriculture question by the audience, and she stressed the importance of farming to Minnesota but that more federal subsidies isn't the answer.
"Currently we have a lot of programs out there but they don't necessarily help the family farmer," Larson said. "A lot of the subsidies placed in law helped the large agri-businesses."
Both GOP endorsing conventions will be April 10, the 7th District at Moorhead and the 8th District at Cambridge. All eight candidates said they would abide by the endorsement and not challenge it in the Aug. 10 primary.