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Paulsen’s vote on Ryan budget motivates Sund to challenge him for Minnesota’s 3rd District

This report is part of collaboration with WNYC’s “It’s a Free Country” to cover the 25 most captivating congressional races from around the country.

Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses the wealthy suburbs west of Minneapolis, should be competitive. Political strategists have often rated the district a tossup, but Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen has managed to keep the district in Republican hands following the 2008 retirement of moderate Rep. Jim Ramstad, even winning by double digits in 2010. As district resident Sharon Sund aims to change that, Paulsen is getting renewed attention from national Democrats, who are launching a new round of ads against him.

“I never thought I’d be a politician,” Sund told the Minnesota Independent. “And I said I wouldn’t be if anyone asked. I was adamant.”

But Paulsen’s vote in favor of the GOP budget, orchestrated by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, changed that.

“Erik Paulsen decided that he was going to vote on this Ryan budget, which destroys Medicare as we know it. He was just hellbent on doing whatever the Republicans wanted to do,” she said. “They insisted that they best way to do things was to cut taxes and continue to fund corporations. He was going to do this because he believe it was the right thing to do. The only way that we were going to get something different was to get someone different in that position, so I decided I should run.”

A scientist, businesswoman and soccer mom, Sund’s resume is likely similar to those of many in the suburban district. It’s the wealthiest and most educated among Minnesota’s eight congressional districts. A large number of biotech companies, such as Medtronic, are headquartered there.

And it’s a district that should be relatively friendly to Democrats. The Cook Political Report has consistently rated the 3rd as “even” between Democratic and Republican voters. President Obama carried the district with 52 percent in 2008 – but that same year Paulsen won 48 percent to DFLer Ashwin Madia’s 41 percent. In 2010, a landslide year for Republicans, Paulsen won by double digits with 59 percent to DFLer Jim Meffert’s 37 percent.

Since then, Paulsen has kept his head down and avoided controversy, unlike Republicans in neighboring districts. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a persistent target for progressive activists over her frequent gaffes and decidedly right-wing positions, is on the northern boundary with Paulsen’s district. To the district’s east, DFLer Rep. Keith Ellison became the first Muslim elected to Congress, a fact that has brought right-wing attacks, and he’s quickly risen to become a leader on the left.

While Paulsen hasn’t made headlines, he votes have been largely in lock-step with the new, more conservative Republican majority in the House. And his vote for the Ryan budget has grabbed the attention of national Democrats who have bought gas station ads attacking him for trying to “end Medicare.”

In terms of campaign cash, Paulsen has $679,000 in the bank. Sund, whose campaign was only recently organized, hasn’t yet posted fundraising numbers.

**A focus on veterans, green technology

**

“The thing that perhaps informed my early life the most was growing up in the military,” Sund recalled. “My dad was in the military and served two tours in Vietnam”

She said a recent DFL veterans event was “like old home to me.”

“Veterans issues form a special place with me. We owe it to them be careful when we go into wars, be clear about how we are going to get out, and consider the families of veterans.”

Sund also has a passion for green energy technology, a field she’s worked in. She said she started visiting Paulsen’s office to talk about the industry a few years ago, with little success.

“A lot of people are latching onto [green energy technology],” she said. “We really need to be forward thinking as a country and that’s one of the problems with Paulsen.”

On health care, Sund said any reforms must benefit job creators.

“We need to set up a system that benefits small business, and we need to be encouraging innovators,” she said.

And she feels that tax reforms should not disproportionately favor corporations.

“I think that we need to put people first. The way I see Paulsen doing things is supporting corporations, giving tax breaks to corporations, allowing them to not even pay taxes yet putting the burden on the elderly, children and the disadvantaged.”

Paulsen, as the Minnesota Independent has reported, Paulsen is a member of the federal affairs arm of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a controversial and secretive group that helps lawmakers draft business-friendly legislation, often without disclosure about the group’s involvement in the process.

Sund says her campaign has received financial and volunteer support from people who have never voted Democrat, particularly those that supported Ramstad, a moderate Republican.

“One of the tipping points for my decision to run was a dad at the kids’ soccer field. He had gotten wind that I was going to run, and he says, ‘Are you going to run? Are you going to run? We need you,’” she recalled. “Then he tells me, ‘You know? I’ve never voted Democrat until Obama. We need you.’”

This report is part of collaboration with WNYC’s “It’s a Free Country” to cover the 25 most captivating congressional races from around the country.

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