A group of freshmen hurried past Eddy Hall and back to their dorms Monday night.
A young man dressed in a black suit coat with a box of brightly colored chalk tucked under his arm stopped them.
“Hi, I’m Mike Griffin. I’m running for state rep,” he said, smiling and extending his hand.
A 2010 political science graduate from the University of Minnesota, Griffin is hoping to dethrone the longstanding state representative of the University’s district — a task nobody has accomplished in 40 years. Griffin himself acknowledged it will be a struggle to take on Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, a seasoned politician three times his age.
Griffin, 25, and his campaign team spent Monday night spreading fliers and chalking sidewalks around campus. The campaign is aimed at organizing University students and local residents for support.
He announced his candidacy in July for state representative for District 59B, the district that includes the University and its surrounding neighborhoods.
In February, Griffin will challenge Kahn for the DFL endorsement. Kahn is currently in her 20th term serving the district, and the DFL has stood behind her since her first re-election.
The 74-year-old representative confirmed she will run again in 2012. In the past 10 years Kahn has faced only two challengers within her own party in the primaries.
Griffin said his approach to defeat Kahn is unlike past attempts.
He plans to use his political experience — first as an intern for Sen. John Kerry’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 2004 and then with Students Organizing for America during President Barack Obama’s campaign — to mobilize student voters.
Voter turnout in District 59B in the 2010 election was 42.5 percent, the third lowest out of the 134 districts, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State.
Griffin is using social media to bring his campaign to students. The campaign has Facebook and Twitter pages and a website, and is also utilizing a smartphone app called “Geo Connect” to help organizers canvass and talk to voters in the district.
A handful of Griffin’s campaign organizers are students. University students, like Ryan Below, are getting class credit for working on the campaign.
Below, a biology major and one of 12 organizers in Griffin’s campaign, specializes in organizing students in the Southeast Como neighborhood. Below said he joined Griffin’s campaign because he “liked politics and never had the chance join the process before.”
‘Phyllis doesn’t lose’
But even with all of his efforts to involve students, Griffin’s chances of success are slim, said David Schultz, Hamline University political policy professor. “The odds are against him,” said Schultz. “Phyllis doesn’t lose. She stays in office until she steps down.”
Kahn has an “incredible amount of support” from her district, Schultz said. But 40 years on the job doesn’t come without challengers.
Kahn, who was first elected in 1972, has faced and defeated each opponent — including some University graduates. In 2000, Brian Biele challenged Kahn for the DFL endorsement and received just 32 percent of the vote. In 2008 and 2010, Republican candidate Ole Hovde, also a University graduate, challenged Kahn in the general election, receiving about 25 and 19 percent, respectively.
Independence Party candidate Ron Lischeid, who ran against Kahn in 2004 and 2008 and lost, criticized Kahn in the past for not being available to her constituents. Griffin declined to comment on that claim, but said it’s an important part of his campaign.
Kahn dismissed the notion past challengers have brought up that she doesn’t reflect the concerns of the University community.
“I often have University students as interns,” she said.
Kahn said her strong educational background helps her connect with the University. She spent almost 10 years researching at the University prior to beginning her career in the Legislature, and has multiple degrees in physics from Cornell and Yale universities.
Her years of experience have also given her a certain degree of credibility that would be lost if she didn’t retain her position, she said.
Griffin doesn’t deny Kahn’s experience and said he respects her progressive career; the legislator has lobbied in the past for women’s rights and the environment. But he said the time has come for a “normal progression of fresh ideas.”
In order for that progression to begin, Schultz said Griffin is going to need something of a “miracle.”
An opposing party candidate hasn’t been announced and in 2002, Kahn didn’t face a registered candidate. A write-in candidate received a little more than 5 percent of the vote that year.
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