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Kriesel draws cash from GOP big shots, outpaces House opponent in fundraising

It's a race that has the potential to shift the partisan makeup of south Washington County's representation in St. Paul.

But the campaign for retiring lawmaker Karla Bigham's Minnesota House of Representatives seat in District 57A between Republican John Kriesel and DFLer Jen Peterson is drawing some national attention too -- or at least it is from the checkbooks of some prominent GOP operatives.

Kriesel -- an Iraq War veteran from Cottage Grove who lost portions of both legs in combat -- represents the Republicans' push to steal back a seat that has in recent years been in the sole possession of the DFL. And some GOP big shots have noticed, helping Kriesel open up a huge fundraising advantage over Peterson.

Donations from Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- a presumed 2012 presidential candidate -- and prominent conservative strategist Karl Rove -- a close adviser to former President George W. Bush and the architect of his two successful presidential campaigns -- have padded Kriesel's campaign coffers, according to the latest report available from the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.

Kriesel had raised more than $26,000 as of July 19. Many of those donations have come from out-of-state donors, including numerous individuals with ties to political consulting, media relations and strategic research firms based in the Washington, D.C. beltway.

Kriesel last week chalked his fundraising success up to "just running into the right people."

"When I lived -- well, when I was recovering -- in D.C. we met a lot of good people," he said. "A lot of people are excited about my campaign and contacted me and said, 'Hey I want to donate to your campaign,' which is shocking to me. You want to get good support, but when you do it really feels good."

Meanwhile, Peterson, a first-term Cottage Grove City Council member seeking state office for the first time, appears to be hitting the campaign's home stretch with a considerably smaller war chest.

Her campaign committee, Friends for Jen Peterson, reported total receipts of just $7,500 as of July 19 -- or roughly $19,000 less than her Republican opponent.

"I'm raising money from people right here in Minnesota and in the district who have a real interest in them," Peterson said.

Just more than $5,000 of the DFLer's fundraising came from individual contributors, all of whom reside in Minnesota, according to the financial disclosure report. Peterson's committee also collected an additional $1,700 from political action committees or funds, including funds from unions representing local sheet metal workers, pipefitters and a committee dedicated to aiding female political candidates, womenwinning.

The more modest fundraising numbers aren't a detriment, though, Peterson insisted.

"I'm just doing what I need to do, which is get out knocking on the doors, and meet with the people and hear what their concerns are," she said.