Republican congressional candidates Allen Quist and Mike Parry have plenty in common.
Both were born in Minnesota. Both have spent their lives working and raising families in the state. Both are Republicans, both grandfathers. They’ve each served Minnesota as lawmakers — Parry is a state senator from Waseca, Quist a former state representative.
The two share a common goal: wrestle the 1st District seat from incumbent Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.
But for all their similarities, the candidates couldn’t be further apart as the Aug. 14 primary looms and the intensity of their attacks — ranging from voting records and ideologies to questioning each other’s character and morals — grows by the day.
Unearthing the past, creating controversy
In recent weeks, the Quist and Parry campaigns have released long strings of statements that criticize each other’s political records and personal conduct and have brought national attention to Minnesota’s 1st District.
The most sensational came when Parry reminded voters that Quist visited an adult bookstore in Mankato in the 1980s in an attempt to prove it was a haven for anonymous homosexual sex. Quist at first denied the visit, then admitted to it when confronted with multiple reports of the incident.
Parry then released statements Quist made in 1994 about women, saying marriage is a political arrangement and that men have a “genetic predisposition” to lead a family. Quist said his statements are being taken out of context and that they reflect his religious beliefs, which he considers separate from politics.
Parry also unearthed a comment Quist made in 1988 suggesting that supporting a gay counseling center at Mankato State University would be similar to supporting one for the Klu Klux Klan. Quist recently apologized for the comment in a prepared statement.
Quist has countered by doing some digging of his own, bringing up a statement Parry made three years ago saying that President Barack Obama is a “power hungry, arrogant black man.” Parry admitted to it and apologized.
“One of the differences between Allen Quist and I is he runs away from his statements and votes,” Parry said. “If anyone asks me about my votes and my statements, I’m man enough to stand up and say, ‘OK, let the voters decide.’”
Quist also called out Parry for claiming there is no Medicaid fraud in Minnesota, and, as the chair of the Senate’s Government Innovation and Veterans Committee, for not calling a hearing amid an ongoing federal investigation into the accusation. Quist, among others, has called an independent audit of the state’s Medicaid records dating back to 2003, which Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration plans to begin soon.
“I came to the conclusion that I needed to point out problems with Mr. Parry as it related to issues, and Medicaid is a huge issue,” Quist said.
Tracing the fight’s beginnings
According to Quist, Parry flung the first grape of the food fight.
Quist accuses Parry’s campaign of going negative even before an April endorsing convention, which ended in a stalemate and sent both politicians to the primary.
“He’s the one that started the negative campaigning two weeks before the endorsing convention, that was his doing,” Quist said.
Quist said he’s not trying to run a negative campaign, only trying to clear up the stream of statements that continue to come from Parry’s camp. “You can’t let your opposition run a totally negative campaign and not respond to it,” he said.
The Parry camp denies running a negative campaign, maintaining that its intention is only to present voters with all information about Quist.
“I wouldn’t call it mudslinging nor would I call it negative,” Parry said. “Our campaign has been factual. Everything that we have put out is fact.”
Parry said he publicized some of Quist’s past statements on marriage, homosexuality, and policy decisions because he thinks they pose a serious threat to a Republican victory in November.
He said if Quist is the Republican nominee, “it’ll be nothing but an attack machine, Tim Walz going after Allen Quist, and they’ll never talk about the issues.”
What about Walz?
Walz has $808,644 in the bank, is finishing a third term in office, and is widely viewed as a moderate in a district where Democrat and Republican loyalties practically split down the middle.
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Walz, a retired command sergeant major and the highest-ranking soldier to serve in Congress, has also recently authored several successful veterans-related bills that have brought him wide bipartisan support.
In short, he’s no puny adversary.
Parry and Quist both say their primary objective is returning the 1st District to Republican hands.
“From now to Aug. 14 the most important thing on the minds of the Republican voters out there is, who is the best candidate to defeat Tim Walz?” Parry said.
Parry and Quist have both criticized Walz for failing to produce a balanced budget and curb the national debt. Both have also disagreed with Walz’s support for Obama’s health-care law.
Still, a majority of their public messages continue to focus on attacking each other. And Quist admitted he hasn’t had much time to define Walz’s record.
“(Parry’s) campaign has made it virtually impossible to be very critical (of Walz),” Quist said.
Nine days away
With nine days before the primary election, Quist and Parry are hard at work to get their message out before voters enter the booths on Aug. 14.
For Quist, that means walking in parades, knocking on doors, and spreading his goals of cutting the federal budget and reforming Medicaid. For Parry, it means discussing his ideas for education and economic reform and job creation and meeting with voters face-to-face.
It also likely means the two will keep after each other until the votes are tallied.
Most recently, Parry criticized Quist for making another donation to his own campaign. Quist has donated more than $100,000 to finance his own campaign, a fact Parry has repeatedly suggested is a sign of weakness.
“We think this shows Allen Quist is desperate and the campaign is losing ground,” said Ben Golnik, Parry’s campaign adviser.
Quist said he has no reason to defend the move.
“The fact of the matter is that financially, I am very successful, and I’m willing to use some of my finances to try to change our country for the better. What’s the problem?” he said.
Quist said he questions whether or not Parry has the ability to contribute his own earnings toward his congressional bid.
“Is he successful or isn’t he? And if he is, why isn’t he willing to invest some of his assets in the campaign?” Quist said.
Parry said he invested his life savings into his small business, a Godfather’s pizza in Waseca, in 2009 when the economy went south.
“I kept upwards of 17 people employed, I kept business going during these hard economic times that face all of us small business owners, and I look at myself as very, very successful, and that’s where my dollars have gone — to keep people employed,” Parry said.
Each candidate and their camp continues to assert that they are the Republicans’ best option.
“They’re going to vote for Mike Parry because he’s the electable conservative in the race,” Golnik said.
“I’m very explicit in terms of where I’m convinced we have to go, and I contrast that with Mr. Walz’s position,” Quist said.
“I think that’s a fair way to campaign.”