They're calling each other "unelectable" and "hypocritical." And those are just a couple of the milder epithets Republicans Mike Parry and Allen Quist have thrown at each other in a personally tinged primary race in southern Minnesota.
The winner of the Aug. 14 primary will challenge Democratic Rep. Tim Walz in the 1st District, an independent-minded swath of the state with a checkered partisan past.
Republican primary voters are looking for the right match against Walz, a public schoolteacher with a populist touch who has proved to be a resilient campaigner. Since upsetting a six-term GOP congressman in 2006, Walz has defeated a Mayo Clinic doctor and a state lawmaker with deep business ties in a district that includes the cities of Rochester, Mankato and Worthington.
Much of the race between Parry and Quist has focused on comments each made in the past.
Parry, a state senator, circulated remarks that go back to Quist's tenure in the state House in the 1980s, including a 1988 news report about Quist investigating an adult bookstore as part of a focus on preventing the spread of AIDS. Parry also cited a 1994 interview where Quist was quoted saying that men had a "genetic predisposition" to be the head of the household. Parry said last week that the remarks make Quist "too risky" to go up against Walz.
"Those are the kinds of things that make him unelectable," Parry said in an interview.
Quist accused Parry of negative campaigning, while reminding voters that Parry took to Twitter to call President Obama a "Power Hungry Arrogant Black Man" and ask "whats with the Dems and Pedophiles?" before he ran for Minnesota Senate in a 2010 special election.
"He seems totally hypocritical," Quist told The Associated Press. "He wants me to be accountable for things I may or may not have said 20 or 30 years ago."
Parry said he apologized for the Twitter comments before voters elected him twice to the Legislature. He said Quist hasn't won since a 1986 election to the state House.
This primary is harder to predict than the last Republican congressional primary in 2008, when slightly more than 25,000 GOP voters chose physician Brian Davis by a 2-to-1 margin over state Sen. Dick Day. Back in April, Republicans couldn't decide whether to back Parry or Quist at an endorsing convention that lasted until 2 a.m. The district's boundaries have also shifted slightly under a new political map that became effective this election.
1st District GOP Chairman Dave Kruse said he's expecting decent turnout because the primary race has been so close.
Republican Randy Demmer, a former state representative who lost to Walz two years ago, is backing Parry, saying he matches up better against the incumbent. Demmer said it's dangerous to underestimate Walz. The Democrat survived Demmer's challenge, his toughest yet, even after Republican allies poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV attack ads.
"He's a smart politician. He was that way two years ago when I ran against him," Demmer said. "He has a persona that he wants to present to voters. It may or may not align with his voting."
GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, a former presidential candidate, supports Quist, whose fans also include Dolores Link of Caledonia. Link liked how Quist came across when she met him recently in her small southeastern Minnesota town.
"I think he's honest and sincere and really wants to cut the spending," Link said.
The two Republicans are close together in their focus on the economy and deficits. Both portray Walz as a big-government spender.
But they disagree on a five-year farm and nutrition bill that stalled in the House because of conservative opposition. Parry is pushing House Speaker John Boehner and other leaders to pass the bill, saying the 1st District's farmers need the stability it would provide. Quist said it spends too much on food stamps and should be considered only as part of a larger deficit-reduction plan.
"Priority 1 is we have to balance the budget in five years," Quist said. "We are compromising our children's future and we are putting our nation's future at severe risk."
But Parry said lawmakers can fix the bill's problems once farmers are given help.
"Then we'll take a look and start tweaking the entitlement programs that are now in that farm bill," he said.
Meanwhile, Walz has stayed in the background as the Republican primary race has played out. Campaign manager Sara Severs said he was too busy for an interview last week. She said in a statement that Walz is focused on negotiations for the farm bill and other legislative priorities.
"Senator Parry and Representative Quist won't be able to break the partisan gridlock in Washington when they can't break the gridlock in their own party," Severs said.
The Republicans and Walz will face an audience of farmers in a candidate forum at the Farmfest agricultural fair near Redwood Falls on Tuesday, one week before the primary.