After nearly a decade as the lead news anchor for KMSP-TV, Mr. Grams launched his political career by running for Congress in 1992 and ousting the Democratic incumbent, Gerry Sikorski. Mr. Grams, also a small-business owner, won again two years later when he ran for an open U.S. Senate seat, but he only held the post for one term. He lost his reelection bid to Democrat Mark Dayton, who went on to become Minnesota’s governor.
Mr. Grams tried for a political comeback in 2006 with an unsuccessful bid against former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar. He was also briefly chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, the Republican who finally unseated Oberstar in 2010 but lost to a Democrat two years later.
Shortly after his 1994 statewide victory, Mr. Grams told the Associated Press he was successful as a conservative in a Democratic-leaning state by appealing to Minnesotans’ natural thrift and belief in the value of hard work.
“I believe there is a good role for government to play. But we can’t be everything to everyone,” Mr. Grams said.
Rodney Dwight Grams was born Feb. 4, 1948, in Princeton, Minn., and grew up on the farm where his father was raised in the eastern Minnesota town of Crown. In the early 1970s, he attended Anoka Ramsey Junior College in Coon Rapids, Minn., and Carroll College in Montana. He then worked in broadcasting for nearly 25 years, including stints at stations in Montana, Wisconsin and Illinois, before he landed at KMSP-TV in 1982.
In 1985, Mr. Grams founded a construction and residential development business, and his experience as a small business owner helped push him into politics, said Kaiser.
“He got tired of the regulation and taxes, and one day he called up the Republican Party and said, ‘What can be done? How can I run?’ ” Kaiser recalled.
Mr. Grams quickly became one of the most conservative politicians ever to represent Minnesota in Washington. He and the late liberal icon Sen. Paul Wellstone formed one of the most ideologically diverse state delegations in the U.S. Senate. Among Mr. Grams’s chief legislative accomplishments was his early championing of a $500-per-child tax credit, which became a major Republican initiative of the 1990s.
He also supported prayer in public schools and opposition to gay rights and legal abortion.
In 2004, Mr. Grams and his second wife, the former Christine Gunhus — a former chief of staff in his Senate office — bought a Little Falls-based group of radio stations. As a frequent on-air host, Mr. Grams often discussed returning to politics — even after his unsuccessful 2006 campaign for Congress.
His first marriage, to the former Laurel Servaty, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, Christine, whom he married in 2000; four children from his first marriage; and several grandchildren.
— Associated Press
Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed to this report.