WASECA — Waseca resident and erstwhile DFL candidate Craig Brenden quietly withdrew from the state Legislature race last week, leaving incumbent Rep. John Petersburg, R-Waseca, the lone candidate at least for now.
Brenden held his cards close when asked why he dropped out.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s the right time to be running,” he said Friday afternoon.
The position in question is in the Minnesota House of Representatives for District 24A, which includes Waseca and Owatonna.
The Republican representative Petersburg has already received his party’s endorsement to defend his seat, which is up for grabs this fall.
Brenden ran on the DFL ticket against Petersburg in the 2012 election and lost by a thin margin. Petersburg won with just over 52 percent of the votes. The dual-county district split its support, with a majority of Steele County voters backing Petersburg and Waseca County favoring Brenden.
At a Steele County DFL caucus meeting in February, he announced that he would try for a deja-vu campaign and challenge Petersburg again.
“I’m back,” he told members of the caucus.
Brenden said there was no doubt in his mind at the time of his announcement. He stammered when asked what spurred him to reconsider and eventually fell back on the idea that his viewpoint is different now.
According to Brenden, the only thing that happened over the past two months was a change of heart.
It’s still early in the year, however, and the current legislative session isn’t set to expire until May 19. Primaries sit further in the distance in August. In Steele County’s other state-level house district, 24B, the GOP caucus has yet to endorse a challenger to the incumbent, Rep. Patti Fritz, DFL-Faribault.
The local DFL groups didn’t endorse Brenden, or any other candidate, and now they are looking for somebody to take over the race.
“We’re currently in the process of looking at some other options,” said Alan O’Malley-Laursen, vice-chair of the Steele County DFL caucus.
O’Malley-Laursen said he didn’t know the specific circumstances of Brenden’s decision, and that Steele and Waseca County DFLers are working together to identify one or more new candidates.
No one has definitively stepped forward, he said, but local party leaders are testing the interest levels of various members. He hopes they can identify someone within a couple weeks.
State DFL members have their single-party control at state this fall, as the GOP has been vocal about winning the House.
But O’Malley-Laursen said it would be a mischaracterization to say that Petersburg is running unopposed.
“We certainly expect to have a candidate,” he said. “No question about that.”
It isn’t the first time that a local candidate for the Legislature has withdrawn his name early in election season and not even the first time in recent history, though the last time the parties were switched.
In May 2010, Brandon Pofahl, the Republican candidate for District 26A — the name of the district that included both Owatonna and Waseca before redistricting — bowed out of his campaign against then state Rep. Kory Kath, an Owatonna DFLer. Pofahl withdrew in early May of that year.
Pofahl’s withdrawal proved to be a major stumbling block for the GOP that year with Kath going on to win a decisive victory over the replacement candidate, Dave Thul of Owatonna.
Reach reporter Matt Hudson at 507-444-2372. Follow him on Twitter @OPPMattH