Democrats for the 8th Congressional District have a third candidate to consider for the party’s nominee.
Soren Sorensen, of Bemidji, stands as a candidate for the 8th Congressional District with hopes to represent the Democrats in the 2020 elections. He previously stood as a candidate in the Democratic Party primaries in 2018.
Giving a nod to prominent left-wingers like former Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sorensen has branded himself an unabashed progressive in a conservative-leaning district, but says coalition-building and addressing marginalized voter blocks in northeastern Minnesota can propel him to a win over incumbent Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Duluth.
“It’s about representing rural people better,” Sorensen said during a phone interview Friday, Oct. 18. “If we can tackle rural poverty. If we realize that we’re representing more than mining, we’re also representing people who grow crops, foresters and dairy farmers and people who want their small towns to retain a little vitality — it’s not just about the Range and Duluth anymore.”
Sorensen, 45, said he’s been involved in Democratic politics since 2003-04 and 2008 in various presidential bids by Kucinich, who Sorensen described as a straight shooter and a Democrat who stands for something on war and peace, as well as progressive staples like single-payer health care, human rights, anti-poverty programs and labor-oriented causes.
Previously, he said he was involved in some student protests in his late teens and early twenties, as well as some occasional non-paid lobbying work for social causes.
Noting there may be a lack of interest in fighting hard for a seat that will likely be removed with the results from the 2020 U.S. Census and redistricting, Sorensen said his candidacy is based on a moral imperative to put a viable representative in place, no matter how long.
“I want to see a responsible person in that seat. I just don’t see anyone sticking with it from the last cycle — (Joe) Radinovich, (Jason) Metsa, Michelle Lee and (Kirsten) Kennedy haven’t jumped in,” Sorensen said. “More Democrats have to reach to find somebody to do it. I’ve got something to build on.”
Sorensen has been elected to the DFL’s state central committee. In 2016, he actively campaigned for Bernie Sanders. With 2020 looming on the calendar, he said this is his first real bid for office after failing to win in a state representative race for District 2A and subsequently, the race for the Democratic nomination in the 8th Congressional District, both in 2018.
Based on his campaign site’s bio, Sorensen sports an eclectic background in plant biology, field herbology, entomology and efforts to conserve native Minnesota plants — whether this work took place during his studies at the University of Minnesota Itasca Biology Station or stints in Indonesia, where Sorensen witnessed the toppling of corrupt autocrat Suharto in 1998.
Misrepresentations of Suharto’s downfall and surrounding events by U.S. officials further eroded Sorensen’s trust in establishment institutions.
Currently, Sorensen said he’s primarily occupied with community activism and, from time to time, online consultation — though, his employment has been somewhat limited in recent years after a significant workplace spinal injury in 2016 at the Sanford Center hockey arena in Bemidji.
While the 8th Congressional District has leaned increasingly right-wing in recent years, Sorensen said that doesn’t faze him as a true-blue progressive Democrat in rural America. It’s a false understanding, he said, based on failures to address ignored voices in the area.
“I don’t think that’s the split at all,” Sorensen said. “I would say the Democratic establishment in the 8th District has failed to invite and organize new areas that haven’t been served, that haven’t always been red. We haven’t provided meaningful service to people in, like, Hubbard County, Wadena County or Beltrami County, but I think the margins are areas for pick-ups for us.”
Much of this comes down to knocking on doors, town halls, and a general push for meeting people halfway with their concerns, hopes and needs.
In terms of Stauber himself, Sorensen said there are a number of interesting similarities — namely, that they both care for special needs children and have worked extensively at hockey rinks during their adult lives — but the similarities largely stop there.
While, from the perspective of progressives, Stauber has been a tolerably labor-friendly politician, Sorensen said the former St. Louis County commissioner isn’t receptive to constituents of his district where they live and has shown a propensity to defer to select interest groups.
“As a Republican, I think he’s triangulating pretty hard. ... I think his big failure is not being out here in the community, not listening to people that haven’t been pre-selected as the chattering class that lobby him or signed up for his town halls,” Sorensen said. “I just want to be present in the community.”