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DFL candidates strive to reach voters in Tuesday primary

Stu Lourey and Michelle Lee

If the condensed race for the state Senate District 11 special election on Feb. 5 is a sprint, the DFL candidates must feel like they're hurdling, too.

On Saturday, Stu Lourey and Michelle Lee will appeal to delegates at a Senate District 11 Democratic-Farmer-Labor endorsement convention in Barnum.

Then no matter what the party endorsement outcome is there, Lourey and Lee will be on the ballot for Tuesday's DFL-only primary across precincts in Carlton and Pine counties, and parts of eastern Kanabec and southern St. Louis counties.

Campaign tents for both candidates flew up in earnest over the past several days — online commercials, radio ads, mailers, social media blitzes, fundraising events, door-knocking, the whole works.

The degree to which the campaigns have flowered has been nothing but impressive. But it shouldn't come as a surprise. Both candidates have ties to ready political machines and both say turning out their supporters will be critical in a unusual primary season sprung in the dead of winter.

"We're both really good Democrats — and I feel I have a lot to offer the people of this Senate district," Lee said.

"I'll be in that room Saturday making my case for why I'm going to be a strong voice at the Capitol for folks here in this region," Lourey said. "Bottom line, we gotta elect a Democrat from this district."

The winner of Tuesday's primary will face state Rep. Jason Rarick, the GOP-endorsed candidate, in the Feb. 5 special election. Rarick is looking to leave a DFL-controlled state House to join the Minnesota Senate, in which the Republicans have a two-seat advantage.

The special election was necessitated following the appointment of Tony Lourey to state human services commissioner by Gov. Tim Walz.

Stu Lourey, 25, is trying to become the third generation of his family to hold the state Senate seat formerly held by his dad, Tony, and grandmother, Becky Lourey, before that. A Lourey has been in the seat since 1997.

Despite that legacy, Stu singled out his mother, Marlana Benzie-Lourey, as an inspiration into public service, in which he has spent time both campaigning and working legislatively for Sen. Tina Smith and her predecessor Al Franken. It was Marlana, Stu said, who drove him to see the picket lines outside the Moose Lake prison in 2001 and took him to watch soil-and-water-board meetings unfold.

"I'm proud of my family history of public service," Lourey said. "That's a core value I grew up with."

Both Lourey and Lee are on board for single-payer health care and the expansion of rural broadband internet services. Lourey said he'd also look to carry water for affordable housing as a freshman senator.

"It's one of the things that makes communities strong and I'm eager to dig into that," he said from his small beef cattle farm in Kerrick, Minn.

Lourey has already moved six labor unions in the district to endorse him, and he's hoping leaders will send their workers to the polls.

Meanwhile, Lee won the endorsement of Women Winning, a longtime St. Paul action group that works to get women elected to public office. Lee garnered 19,000-plus votes in last summer's 8th Congressional District DFL primary — a hearty second-place total that still kept her off the November ballot but inspired her to keep going.

"You have to pick yourself up and I feel like I'm carrying an important message that needs to be heard," she said.

A retired Duluth television news anchor, Lee, 66, lives in Moose Lake and enjoys being a news consumer these days, she said. As a candidate, she is keen on raising up the voice of rural Minnesotans, she said.

"Rather than survive in rural areas we need to thrive, and we do that together," she said.

Lee learned from her congressional campaign to back off of behind-the-scenes details — delegating those — while focusing on the campaign trail. She's been hitting events nearly daily.

"I'm knocking on doors, stopping in coffee shops, trying to reach people," Lee said. "It's not about Michelle Lee getting her 10-point plan to St. Paul. I want to hear what people are concerned about, and their ideas. I'm getting an earful."

Special DFL-primary election

  • What: Senate District 11 primary election of DFL candidate
  • When: Tuesday, polls open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.*
  • Where: Voting will take place at polling precincts in all Senate District 11 precincts throughout Carlton and Pine counties, as well as eastern Kanabec County and portions of southern St. Louis County, including Arrowhead Township, Brevator Township, City of Brookston, Culver Township, and Stoney Brook Township.

* Polling place hours will be from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the exception of townships having a population of less than 500 residents that have adopted a resolution establishing a later poll opening. In all cases polls open no later than 10 a.m.