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DFL's Kennedy says she 'serious' about 8th District run

North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy is running for Minnesota's 8th District congressional seast. (Tyler Schank / Forum News Service)

DULUTH—The candidate filing period opened this week and the first two candidates officially in the door in the 8th Congressional District race were Republican Pete Stauber and DFLer Jason Metsa.

By some measures, they represent the favorites to replace retiring Rep. Rick Nolan come the November election. As Metsa heads into the Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary on Aug. 14, he has the support of local steelworkers, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and several other unions and DFL politicians. Meanwhile, Stauber won unanimous support of Republicans and owns the biggest war chest to date at more than $500,000.

Such is the landscape that Kirsten Kennedy, whose congressional campaign reported about $3,300 last quarter, finds herself.

In an interview this week, Kennedy, the North Branch mayor, defended her campaign — a little engine with a lot to prove — amid a DFL primary field which includes Joe Radinovich and Michelle Lee along with Metsa.

"My name recognition is not the same as the other three (DFL) candidates," she said.

A check of her campaign Twitter account illustrates her point. She's got a few hundred followers. By comparison, Radinovich leads the DFL Twitter-pack with more than 3,000 followers.

Still, "I'm seriously running," Kennedy said. "I don't want you to think I'm messing around."

Kennedy wants money out of politics and said her campaign — run in the margins of her life as a single-mother working full time — is proof of it. She also wants to give immigrants a path to citizenship and said they could play a valuable role in the economy by filling worker shortages. Additionally, she wants to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

She wants health care reform, but diverges from the other DFL candidates by saying that government-run, single-payer health care is unrealistic given it didn't happen back when the Democrats owned the presidency and both houses of Congress.

"I want to take the best of what we have now," she said, "... to make sure people don't have to pay $7,000 or $8,000 before their benefits kick in."

She has a strong focus on building new infrastructure with an emphasis on mass transit and rail, in particular. She advocates for a reduction of vehicles and freight trucks from roadways in favor of mass transit projects such as the proposed half-billion-dollar Northern Lights Express train between Duluth and the Twin Cities.

This week, Kennedy backed off her support of copper-nickel mining on the Iron Range. At a DFL candidate forum in April, she said green technologies would require the copper and iron from the Iron Range.

"We want to move toward a green economy? We want to use technology to move us there? We need minerals and the minerals we are looking for are found in Minnesota on the Iron Range," she said then, adding that she didn't want to put U.S. needs on the backs of underrepresented Third World workers.

That's not quite what she's saying now. As some members of the 8th District DFL search for an environmental torchbearer now that Leah Phifer is out of the race, Kennedy said she'd fight a pipeline if one was ever proposed through North Branch and that she already has organized to get regular air monitoring done at a fracking transfer station in her town.

"I don't think I did endorse copper-nickel mining," Kennedy said. "What I said is that through the process, as someone who is mayor of a city, what's in those permits counts."

She added a congressperson would have little influence over what is or isn't mined, and supports the establishment of a regional mining commission with divergent interests working together on the issue.

For now, she wants to work at keeping Stauber out of office. She met him at the College of St. Scholastica in March at an all-candidates forum. She said she liked him and felt they connected over their non-partisan roles, hers as mayor and his as a St. Louis County commissioner.

Then she heard him speak publicly.

"When we got up on the stage and started talking about policy, I just knew that every answer he gave was either right in line with our president or even a little to the right," she said. "With Pete Stauber in office, we're going to get more of that."