Four advance to DFL primary in House 6A

A scene from today's House 6A DFL endorsing convention. (PHOTO: Melissa Scaia)

A scene from today’s House 6A DFL endorsing convention. (PHOTO: Melissa Scaia)

After five ballots, Iron Range DFLers opted not to endorse a candidate in the race to succeed State Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) in House District 6A.

The endorsing convention was held this morning and into the afternoon at Hibbing Community College.

All five candidates had stated they would not abide by the endorsement anyway, so a competitive Aug. 9 primary was already in the cards.

Tom Whiteside of Hibbing led on all five ballots but never gained the necessary 60 percent for endorsement. He ended the fifth ballot just short of 52 percent.

“I am really excited and happy that I was able to get the most votes five straight rounds,” said Whiteside. “I believe I am the candidate that demonstrates the DFL values the most. I look forward to the DFL primary.”

Tom Whiteside

Tom Whiteside

Nashwauk Mayor Ben DeNucci picked up votes as the day went on, remaining in second place through the day.

“I want to thank my supporters and friends and family,” said DeNucci. “It has been a great process and meeting people. I wanted to win [the endorsement].”

Supporters of Julie Sandstede, who finished a close third, along with the handful of backers for Mike Thompson of Cherry and Mark Larson of Chisholm, pushed for no endorsement in the later ballots.

Ben DeNucci

Ben DeNucci

“I think this is the best outcome for all of us in the long run,” said Sandstede. “It levels the playing field and puts the issues into the hands of the public which is where it belongs.”

Whiteside is one of the youngest candidates at 29, but has the most direct political experience as a former aide to U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

Nevertheless, the general lack of political experience in the field marked this event.

Melin announced earlier this year she would not seek re-election to the seat she has held since 2011 when she won a special election to replace former House Majority Leader Rep. Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm). Melin, who just had her second child, said she is going to spend the next few years focusing on her family and her law career in Hibbing.

Julie Sandstede

Julie Sandstede

The candidates now enter a DFL primary.

DeNucci is the mayor of Nashwauk and owner of a Nashwauk bar and Keewatin auto shop.

Larson, from north of Chisholm, is a Steelworker at Minntac.

UPDATE (5/22): Larson announced Sunday he would bow out of the race, endorsing Sandstede in the process.

Here’s what Larson said:

 I now believe I can make a bigger impact on effecting the Range by focusing my energies on some of the many local independent groups that are springing up lately that deal with the same issues but on a local level. I urge those reading this to also find such a group that matches your passion or create one if it doesn’t exist yet. It’s going to be through a multitude of diverse local initiatives like these that the Range finally meets its full potential for quality of life and a stable and diverse economy.

I now put my support in this race behind Julie Sandstede. She is an honest and hard working person fully ready to fight for the needs o the Iron Range.

Sandstede, of Hibbing, is an Iron Range music teacher and teacher’s union leader. She went into the convention with most of the local unions behind her, including the coveted Steelworkers endorsement.

Thompson is a car dealer from Cherry. He vowed to run in the primary from the beginning, and was not competing as hard for the endorsement.

Special education teacher Rob Farnsworth of Hibbing has already been endorsed for the Republican nomination for House 6A. Independent Steven Hakly of Cherry has announced his intentions to run a write-in campaign for the seat.

Filing doesn’t close until near the end of the month, so it’s possible more candidates could emerge.


Thanks to Melissa Scaia, a delegate at the convention and candidate for St. Louis County commissioner, for her considerable contributions to this report, which I filed from a campsite somewhere in Itasca County. Additional thanks to Rich Puhek for his reports.


  1. Ranger47 says

    “Nevertheless, the general lack of political experience in the field marked this event.” – Aaron
    Surely you’re joking Aaron. As if political experience is required to run as a DFLer on the Range?

    Remind me, how much political (or life experience for that matter) did Carley have??

  2. Curt Thompson says

    Tom whiteside is not the youngest canidate in the race Mike Thompson is as he comes in at 27 years old with his own political agenda at mind!

  3. Sandstete is also a strong pro-lifer, which she conveniently neglects to mention.

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