Door-knocking by political candidates is a time-honored tradition in Minnesota politics.
That is especially true this campaign season, as the high-stakes battle for control of the Minnesota Legislature could hinge on just a few hundred votes in a small number of competitive districts.
The Republicans door-knocked through the 2020 election; the Democrats took a hiatus due to the pandemic.
Door-knocking is back with a vengeance on both sides in 2022. According to the Oct. 7 issue of Axios, “Most Minnesota Democrats refrained from door-to-door canvassing in 2020 amid COVID concerns. … Top DFLers acknowledge that the decision likely contributed to narrow losses in the legislative races.”
I recently accompanied the two Minnesota House District 49B candidates in the Nov. 8 election while they knocked on doors: Incumbent DFL Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn on Oct. 18 and her Republican challenger Thomas Knecht on Oct. 17.
Kotyza-Witthuhn is running for her third term, while this is Knecht’s first run for office.
Because of redistricting, what was 48B is now 49B. While many Minnesota legislative districts had dramatic changes in their boundaries because of redistricting, 49B did not.
District 49B is the only Minnesota House District that lies completely within the boundaries of Eden Prairie and includes about two-thirds of the city’s population. It would appear the DFL believes this is a seat they will keep, and the Republicans believe this is a seat they can flip.
Despite being unseasonably cold, it was a positive experience. Both candidates are young, energetic, personable and committed to the work they are doing.
Kotyza-Witthuhn is a petite, extroverted, dynamic mother of four young children; the oldest is 8. She told me with complete sincerity, “I love door-knocking, I love meeting my constituents and hearing their concerns.”
Knecht is a very tall, thin, but athletic-looking young man, a trial lawyer still keeping a full work schedule, who also told me, with complete sincerity, that he loves door-knocking.
Their sincerity and optimism were clear and unequivocal. A refreshing change from the negativity and cynicism of this campaign cycle.
That is not to say there are no differences in their politics. In fact, their political differences may be as apparent as the difference in their physical appearance.
Those interested in learning more about Kotyza-Witthuhn’s positions on the issues can view her campaign website.
Likewise, those interested in learning more about Knecht’s positions can view his campaign website.
I asked each candidate what they thought were the “hot-button” issues to voters this election.
Kotyza-Witthuhn listed “education, healthcare, reproductive rights and climate/environmental concerns.”
Knecht, who insisted I quote him exactly, wrote: “The top two issues consistently have been concerns over economy/inflation and public safety, even more so over the last several months with the economic prospects worsening and several concerning incidents of crime in Eden Prairie. Ensuring educational excellence is the third most popular issue.”
The door-knocking experience
In accompanying the candidates, I learned several important things about door-knocking. It is slow, tedious and not for the easily discouraged. Both candidates told me you can knock on dozens and dozens of doors and not get to talk to anybody. Both candidates claim to have knocked on thousands of doors this year; Knecht claims tens of thousands. I have no reason to doubt those claims.
I also learned that technology has come to door-knocking. Each candidate had an app on their phone that gives them real-time house-by-house information. I also learned that “Minnesota nice,” at least in Eden Prairie, is real. Everyone who answered the door was warm, polite and did not show a hint of frustration.
While door-knocking with Knecht on Oct. 17, we went to a neighborhood of mostly newer, single-family homes just southwest of Flying Cloud Airport.
Most doors had no response. The majority who did answer would politely accept Knecht’s literature, saying they were busy doing something. A few asked about voter registration or where and when they could vote, to which Knecht gave complete, accurate and helpful responses.
However, seven responded to his question about what issues worry them most. Interestingly, all seven said the same thing: “crime.”
While door-knocking with Kotyza-Witthuhn on Oct. 18, we went to a neighborhood of multi-unit housing east of Mitchell Road near Pheasant Woods Park. As with the other candidate, most doors had no response; again, many answered the door but would politely accept the literature and say they were busy.
With Kotyza-Witthuhn, there were more questions about voter registration and where and when they could vote. As with her opponent, her responses were complete, accurate and helpful. Of the few who did respond to her questions about what was concerning them, education and the environment were mentioned. I believe one person brought up taxation, and no one said crime.
I was a little surprised at the different responses to the two candidates.
The explanation may be economic; the area I covered with Knecht was more affluent than the area I covered with Kotyza-Witthuhn.
Or, the explanation may be more one of style. Kotyza-Witthuhn takes a more collaborative approach in that she tries to get people to talk. Knecht’s questions were more direct, such as he would ask, “What issues keep you up at night.”
When I decided to write this article, my hope was going door to door with the candidates would give me fresh insight into what has been much talked about this election, the ever-mysterious “mood of the voter.”
I don’t know that I accomplished that. I did learn that democracy is alive and well in Eden Prairie.
Although representing Eden Prairie in the Minnesota House of Representatives is hard work, doesn’t pay very well and is loaded with stress, we have not one but two high-quality people who want that job. Neither candidate commented negatively about their opponent during my time with them. Their politics are different, but they have integrity and a commitment to public service in common.
Watching the two candidates’ campaign has renewed my faith in the process, and I think that is good news for all of us.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn’s name. It has been corrected.
Editor’s note: EPLN contributor Frank Farrell is a longtime Eden Prairie resident and an attorney with 43 years of experience. He was recently appointed to the EPLN board of directors.
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