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McFeely: TV meteorologist Rob Kupec makes bid for Minnesota state senate

The longtime Moorhead resident has jumped into the District 4 race and hopes to fill seat held by retiring DFLer Kent Eken.

KVRR-TV Chief Meteorologist Rob Kupec
KVRR-TV Chief Meteorologist Rob Kupec announced he is running for a seat in the Minnesota state senate.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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MOORHEAD — The upbeat voice — and the familiar face that goes with it — was talking about infrastructure, education funding, senior care and property taxes instead of overnight lows and polar vortexes. So that was different. But Rob Kupec's ever-present smile and friendly demeanor were the same, and that's crucial for the new arena into which the longtime local television meteorologist is stepping.

The voters just might like this guy.

They'll almost surely know him.

Kupec, for nearly a decade the chief meteorologist at KVRR-TV in Fargo and before that a weather guy at WDAY-TV, is running for the Minnesota state senate. State DFLers endorsed him last weekend to run for the District 4 seat currently held by Democrat Kent Eken.

Eken said last month he would not seek reelection, leaving the DFL scrambling to find a candidate to run for the key seat. Republicans currently hold a 33-31 edge in the chamber, with two independents. After "letting it stew" for a bit after being asked, Kupec agreed to run.

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"I've had a long history of being politically active before I got into the media," Kupec said Thursday morning at Twenty Below Coffee on Eighth Street in Moorhead. "Once you get into the media, you can't be that way. But I know a lot of people in the DFL and thought, 'Maybe it's time for a change.' There's always that feeling when you see an issue, you're like, 'Oh, I wish I could go out and do something, but I can't because I'm in the media.' So maybe it's time to do that."

It's not like Kupec is unlearned in the world of politics. He grew up in a politically aware and active home in Connecticut, where his parents worked on a U.S. Senate campaign back in the day. Kupec himself ran for county office as a third-party candidate in New York (he lost). And his wife, Deb White, has been on the Moorhead City Council since 2018.

They moved to Moorhead in 2000, and Kupec has been on the air since 2002, his politics set aside.

The decision to run doesn't come without a cost — most notably his job and income. Kupec was taken off the air by KVRR last week — "Legally I could be on the air, but ethically it's the right choice," Kupec said — and he's unlikely to return. The station will have to hire a replacement until the election, and that person will likely get the job full time.

KVRR is in the midst of being sold to Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum and WDAY.

"So by the time the election is over, win or lose, it might not even be this set of bosses making the decisions, right?" Kupec said. "There's no way I could be on the air during a campaign, with all the time it takes to knock on doors and meet people. ... And there's no way, if I win, that I could be on the air and then be gone when the session starts. It's like, 'Oh, by the way, I'll be gone for the next five months.'

"It's OK. It's time for a change."

His Republican opponent will be Moorhead Police Sgt. Joe Brannan, former Moorhead city councilman Dan Bohmer or former Clay County Republican Party chairman Edwin Hahn.

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Kupec is fully aware of the headwinds Democrats will face in November, especially in rural Minnesota. District 4 includes strongly Democratic Moorhead, but also almost all of rural Clay and Becker counties. With the shift in political affiliations the last 15 years, rural Minnesota glows ruby red like the rest of rural America.

"I know it gets red pretty fast out there, but I think people know who I am, and I think you can be a good representative for rural interests in St. Paul regardless of political affiliation, because there are a lot of nonpartisan issues that come up," Kupec said. "People always think about the partisan issues, but I think it's a matter of working for the district. Things like township needs, roads, infrastructure, property taxes. You need to be a good advocate for those things, and I understand that."

He lists his top issues as helping seniors stay in their homes by providing property tax relief, addressing the shortage of long-term care workers, ensuring access to affordable quality education K-12 to college and protecting the farm economy and water recreation from climate change.

Meat and potatoes.

"Those are some of things I recognize just from living here and talking with people, but there certainly some other things," Kupec said. "I want to talk with people out in the district and find out more from them."

The topics will be different than those Kupec has talked about for 20 years, but the upbeat voice and smiling face are the same. He's hoping voters respond positively.

Hey, at least he's not forecasting a foot of snow and 20-below temperatures. Almost anything will elicit a better response than that.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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