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Poorly funded Republicans line up to challenge Klobuchar

If recent polls are any indication, Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is well-positioned to win a second term in November. Last month, Public Policy Polling showed Klobuchar with a 61 percent approval rating. Many political observers believe she...

If recent polls are any indication, Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is well-positioned to win a second term in November.

Last month, Public Policy Polling showed Klobuchar with a 61 percent approval rating. Many political observers believe she's a shoo-in for re-election.

But that hasn't deterred Klobuchar's three Republican challengers, who include former state Rep. Dan Severson, St. Bonifacius City Council member Joe Arwood and Anthony Hernandez.

With four terms as a legislator, Severson, of Sauk Rapids, Minn., has the most experience in government. The former Navy fighter pilot represented a portion of central Minnesota. He ran unsuccessfully for state secretary of state in 2010.

His Senate campaign is a family affair. His wife, Cathy Jo, enjoys showing off their military-themed headquarters. They've taken a nondescript suburban office space in Bloomington and decorated it as a naval battleship complete with a skipper's quarters, "ready" and "intel" rooms and a "flight deck" room.

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"Welcome aboard to the USS Severson Victory," she tells visitors.

Severson, 57, grew up in central Minnesota. Like the other Republicans who want Klobuchar's job, Severson is convinced the first-term senator is more vulnerable than polls suggest.

"She's never been held to account of a lot of serious votes that she's taken. I mean the cap-and-trade, the Obamacare, the stimulus package."

Severson also said Klobuchar hasn't done enough to address the

national debt.

"She might be a nice lady, and I'm not even going to go there," he said. "She's not an effective senator."

Arwood does not yet have a Senate campaign office, but he said he's all in to become Minnesota's next senator.

"This race is going to surprise people," Arwood said.

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He argues that he's a better fit for most Minnesotans than Klobuchar.

"This isn't about Amy personally," Arwood said. "This is about the policies that she supports, and, by and large, she does vote the party line with Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. And the people of Minnesota are beginning to recognize that."

Arwood, 38, was born and raised in Tennessee. He moved to Minnesota in 2000 and has worked in the automotive industry.

"I'm the common Joe, and that's what we bring to the table," he said. "That's difference people are looking for."

Hernandez, 33, of St. Paul, is underscoring his second generation Mexican-American roots.

"I feel called to do it as an obligation as an American citizen," he said.

Like Arwood, Hernandez has very little political experience, although he ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature two years ago. But he said that shouldn't matter given the mess experienced politicians have gotten the country into.

Hernandez said he has the best chance of any of the Republicans to defeat Klobuchar.

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"You know my heritage, my background, I defy a lot of stereotypes that a typical Republican has," he said.

Some Republicans are excited about a candidate on the GOP side who isn't even in the race: Pete Hegseth, a 31-year-old captain in the Minnesota Army National Guard who just finished a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Hegseth is the executive director of the group, Vets for Freedom which describes itself as the "largest pro-victory Iraq and Afghanistan veterans organization." He declined an interview request.

Political strategist Anne Neu, who ran Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack's successful campaign against longtime DFL Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010, leads an effort to draft Hegseth. She is convinced Hegseth soon will launch a Senate campaign.

"I would be very surprised at this point if there was not an announcement soon," Neu said.

For her part, Klobuchar said she's focused on her job, not opponents.

"It's still early in this process," she said. "You just can't keep getting distracted by every little thing or attack or anything like that, so you just do your work and that's what I'm doing."

While Republicans maintain that Klobuchar is vulnerable, she had more than $4.6 million in campaign cash on hand at the end of last year according to Federal Election Commission records. So far her challengers have raised a tiny fraction of that, a little more than $100,000 combined.

Minnesota Public Radio News can be heard in Duluth at 100.5 FM or online at MPRNews.org.

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