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GOP hopes it is like 1994

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Republicans hope 2010 is like 1994. Or 1946. Or, maybe, 1928.

Spurred by discontent with Washington and St. Paul, Grand Old Party candidates are optimistic they can repeat those three pro-GOP years.

"Our government has grown too big," said Gretchen Hoffman, a first-time candidate running against Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt. "We have lost any common sense."

"We have a runaway government in Minnesota," Hoffman said, echoing the message from about other 100 Republican candidates to file for legislative and statewide office Tuesday at the secretary of state's office, then cheer on the party's standard-bearer, governor candidate Tom Emmer.

Many of the hopefuls are young and less likely to be the dark-suit-wearing white male candidates Republicans often put on the ballot.

And many, like Hoffman, come to politics for the first time, inspired by the conservative-libertarian Tea Party movement that in recent months has become very influential in GOP politics.

Emmer, a state representative from Delano with no serious opposition remaining within his party, fired up other candidates and supporters after he joined in filing paperwork to become an official candidate.

He said that in his time on the campaign trail, he hears one main message from the public: "I don't like the direction this state is moving."

The candidate calls for a smaller government, lower taxes and less regulation.

Emmer said now is not the time for specific policy plans because he still is listening to the state's 3 million voters. He promised specifics later.

New candidates in the audience would not quarrel with Emmer's philosophy about smaller government.

If government was not so bad, Mary Franson said, she would not be in the race to replace retiring Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba, DFL-Long Prairie. "Sometimes you have to get off your couch."

Like so often heard in the Tea Party movement based on limited government, a free market and fiscal responsibility, Franson said that the state needs to handle its budget like people do at home, not overspending what they bring in.

Ben Grimsley, challenging Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said he looked at problems in government and decided he had to run: "I don't really feel I have a choice."

Most new GOP candidates are fairly new to politics. Emmer, with years on city councils and in the Minnesota House, has not been a party activist and bills himself as an outsider.

The Minnesota Republican who probably knows most about the 1994 GOP win is Annette Meeks, Emmer's running mate who helped write the Contract with America that boosted her party into U.S. House control and put Newt Gingrich into the speaker's chair.

This year feels like then, she said.

A busy Tuesday at the secretary of state's office began with DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and her running mate, former Finance Commissioner John Gunyou, turning in their paperwork for governor and lieutenant governor.

Talking to reporters, Kelliher said that last week's legislative session-ending deal that plugged a $3 billion state budget deficit was a good compromise. She said it preserved school funding, allowed health programs to continue and kept other state business running.

Gunyou said that if he were in state office he probably would have agreed to the deal, which he said was the best that could be expected given Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's refusal to compromise.

Kelliher said the 2010 election is important: "This is about closing the Pawlenty chapter."

Kelliher faces former state Rep. Matt Entenza and former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton in the primary election.

Filing for state and county offices, as well as in some school districts and cities, continues through Tuesday, about six weeks earlier than normal because the primary was bumped up a month to Aug. 10.