Zupancich, Skraba advance

Local mayors decisive winners in GOP legislative primaries

by Tom Coombe
Two local mayors scored convincing Republican primary wins Tuesday, taking the next step in their respective bids to represent the region in St. Paul.
Babbitt’s Andrea Zupancich won the primary in State Senate District 3 while Ely’s Roger Skraba cruised in House District 3A.
Both racked up huge margins on their home turf and finished with just shy of 70 percent of the vote in their spacious districts.
Zupancich, who hopes to succeed longtime area legislator and State Sen. Tom Bakk, will face Democrat Grant Hauschild in the November general election.
Skraba moves on to face the incumbent Democrat, State Rep. Rob Ecklund of International Falls.
While both Zupancich and Skraba won party endorsement earlier in the year, both wound up with primary opposition.
Zupancich defeated former iron mining industry lobbyist Kelsey Johnson, racking up 69 percent of the vote and winning the raw vote 5,762-2,581.
Skraba won 3,030-1,511, over Blain Johnson of Bigfork, finishing a little shy of Zupancich’s pace and winning 67 percent of the vote.
For Zupancich, the win came on the heels of an extensive get out the vote effort.
“I’ve been heavily door knocking the whole area for weeks, if not months,” she said. “Throughout the whole district, from small towns like Effie and Marcell to Proctor and Hermantown and International Falls.”
Kelsey Johnson won just nine precincts across the entire district while Zupancich carried the rest, including a 203-60 victory in Babbitt, and even larger margins in Ely (381-42) and Morse Township (180-22).
“It was really great to see as the results came in,” said Zupancich. “I couldn’t be more excited. We need a strong voice for the area.”
Zupancich said she’s heard district residents speak about numerous issues during her door-knocking swings, ranging from taxing social security income to the price of gas as well as concern over the economy, particularly given the recent, extended shutdown at Northshore Mining.
Zupancich said she will continue to do more of the same, and look to raise more campaign funding, over the next three month.
“I’ll be hitting more places, talking to more people - this district is huge,” said Zupancich. “It’s seven hours from one end of the district to the other.”
Like Zupancich, Skraba scored a resounding win on Tuesday.
That included a 379-45 margin in Ely and whopping 168-33 and 179-58 edges in Morse and Babbitt, respectively. He carried Fall Lake Township 90-9.
Blain Johnson won about 15 of the district’s 101 precincts, but most were in areas with relatively few votes, while Skraba ran up strong margins in several parts of the district.
“I did not expect to win this handily,” he said Wednesday. “I was confident I would win but I was blown away by the support. I think it sets the stage for the general election. I think we have the support to seat a Republican in House 3A.”
The district has been represented by Democrats for decades, but Skraba is looking to turn the tables.
Ecklund had an unusually close call in 2020, beating Tom Manninen by roughly 1,200 votes, a margin of 52-48 percent.
Skraba was campaigning in Ecklund’s home territory Wednesday and said he will be “hitting the district, strategizing, going on the offensive” during the campaign.
“We’re going to do whatever we need to do,” said Skraba.