By Bryan Clapper/Austin Daily Herald
Mankato schoolteacher Tim Walz has been hitting the road to raise support for his campaign to unseat six-term Republican U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht, putting on 85,000 miles driving around the 1st Congressional District in the process.
Walz visited Austin Wednesday, calling the city “critical” in his bid.
“It's traditionally been a Democratic stronghold, (but) we need to do better than just a stronghold down here,” Walz said.
So far, the hard work has paid off for the campaign, Walz said, noting he equally matched Gutknecht in fund raising in the previous quarter.
“We're speaking true populism: solve the issues here, put the partisanship aside,” Walz said.
Walz is a retired National Guardsman who served in a support capacity in Italy during Operation Enduring Freedom. He retired as a command sergeant major after 24 years in the National Guard. Walz now teaches geography and youth service learning in Mankato.
“When you're teaching geography in April and running for Congress now, that's a pretty big jump,” Walz said. “I quite honestly never expected to be running for Congress, but when I was approached about a year and a half ago, a group of people said, ‘Well maybe not, but you're exactly the type of person who needs to be in Congress.'”
The first-time political candidate calls himself a moderate Democrat who supports gun-owners' rights and says he is fiscally conservative.
“I think government's an extension of what we can do together, but I'm also a realist,” Walz said.
The incumbent, Gutknecht, has been in the House since 1994, and won re-election in 2004 with nearly 60 percent of the vote. And while Walz outraised Gutknecht in the first quarter of this year and equally matched him in the second, Gutknecht's cash on hand coming into 2006 leaves him with a three-to-one cash advantage.