Gubernatorial candidates selected, close race expected

Shira Kantor

Four years after Jesse Ventura’s gubernatorial campaign made “third-party politics” a household phrase in Minnesota, Ventura’s June 18 announcement that he will not seek re-election sent four major candidates – and many minor ones – on a quest to replace him.

The political games were just beginning.

The road to the primaries

Ventura’s Independence Party first needed to replace its political point man, a task that fell to former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Penny at the party’s July 13 state convention.

“The public is really seeking a third alternative, and Tim is really the person,” said Jack Uldrich, the party’s state chairman, in June. “Unlike Governor Ventura, I think Tim understands the chance to build the party.”

Penny, also a senior fellow and co-director of the University’s Humphrey Institute Policy Forum, drew 87 percent of the votes from delegates.

His nomination came more easily than state House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty’s endorsement at the Republican state convention a month earlier.

Pawlenty, from Eagan, became the party’s candidate when Orono businessman Brian Sullivan conceded the nomination early on June 15.

Twelve rounds of voting over 15 hours gave neither candidate the 60 percent delegate support party rules require.

As the tension rose, one delegate even demanded Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum be removed from the convention floor because he was not a credentialed delegate.

“The Sullivan folks don’t like my support for Mr. Pawlenty,” Sviggum said.

Each candidate pledged to drop out of the race if the other were endorsed, to allow the party’s official candidate to devote campaign resources for the general election instead of a primary fight.

“We want a party that’s united,” Pawlenty said at the convention. “We do not want to go into the fall campaign with a divided party. “

A spirit of unity already prevailed for state Democrats at their party convention in early May.

“It’s like the delegates are on Valium,” convention co-chairman David Lillehaug said. “There is a lot of unity and very little fighting. That bodes well.”

The convention endorsed state Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, a 32-year Senate veteran from Erskine, over state auditor Judi Dutcher and Sen. Becky Lourey, of Kerrick.

“We’re in this together from now on,” Moe said.

Delegates also gave a unanimous endorsement to U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone’s bid for a third term.

The party’s solidarity was a departure from the four-way gubernatorial primary that turned DFL candidates against each other in 1998, or the divisive 2000 Senate race.

“We feel very good about having a nice, clear shot to November,” Moe said after the convention.

Minnesota’s fourth major party, the Green Party, held its first state convention two weeks after the DFL with not only an election but also the party’s major-party status at stake.

Under state election rules, one of the party’s candidates must receive 5 percent of the votes in a statewide race, or the party loses its major-party standing and hundreds of thousands of state dollars for its campaigns.

The Greens became a Minnesota major party in 2000, when presidential candidate Ralph Nader received just over 5 percent of the vote in the state. Delegates endorsed party activist Ken Pentel on the first ballot. Pentel received 0.3 percent of the vote in the 1998 gubernatorial race.

The party also endorsed Ed McGaa, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, for the Senate race, but not without a challenge from delegates who feared a Green candidate would draw votes from people who would otherwise vote for incumbent Wellstone.

“If Wellstone loses this November, it is a defeat for the Green party, for all progressives, and for the agenda we share,” wrote Nader’s 2000 running mate Winona LaDuke, in an open letter to the convention.

Hailed by the chie

This year’s governor’s race has drawn the Bush administration’s attention since early summer 2001, when Vice President Dick Cheney personally called Republican candidate Pawlenty to urge him not to run against Wellstone in the U.S. Senate race.

Pawlenty’s shift to the gubernatorial arena cleared the way for the White House’s favored Republican candidate, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.

Since then, Bush and Cheney have each traveled to Minnesota twice to campaign for state Republicans.

Most recently, Cheney told an Aug. 12 Pawlenty fund-raising event, “The president and I are here to help any way we can.”

State DFL Chairman Mike Erlandson called the visit political payback for Pawlenty, clearing the way for the White House’s favored Senate candidate.

Biennial budgeting

Next spring, a first-term governor will hear the first biennial University budget request from a newly appointed University president.

Moe, Pawlenty and Penny praised departing University President Mark Yudof in recent interviews and said the next University president should continue his major projects, such as cutting administrative overhead, moving the University in new research areas, and upgrading the campuses.

“I think somebody a lot like Yudof would be great,” Penny said of the next University president.

Moe said Yudof “took the University to the next level” and that the next president should continue that progress.

But Pentel criticized some of Yudof’s decisions and said the next president should pursue “making the school itself a model of sustainable living” and representing the state’s entire population, including low-income students.

“I’m sure he did some very decent things and he fought hard to get more money for the University of Minnesota,” Pentel said. “But how is that money being spent? That’s what I want to ask.”

Pawlenty also said if he were elected, he would ask the University to do fewer things but do them at “a higher level of excellence,” while shifting some of the University’s functions to the other state colleges and universities.

“… With our great University of Minnesota, we ask it to do too much,” he said of the University’s teaching, research and outreach functions. “… That’s a lot, and it’s hard to expect the University to do all that with a level of excellence.”

By the numbers

In a three-way race, according to a June poll conducted by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Moe would take 38 percent of the vote, while Pawlenty would get 27 percent and Pentel 4 percent.

In a four-candidate contest, the survey found that Moe would still win, with 32 percent. Penny would receive 23 percent, Pawlenty 22 percent and Pentel would take 3 percent.

However, the poll also found that Moe had a name-recognition advantage, which could dissipate as the other candidates gain publicity.

A Minneapolis Star Tribune Minnesota Poll conducted at approximately the same time found that in a four-way race, Pawlenty would get 26 percent of the vote, Penny and Moe 25 percent each and Pentel 5 percent, the paper reported June 27.

The Pioneer Press poll of 627 registered voters was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The Star Tribune Minnesota Poll surveyed 812 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Campaign notebook

ï Penny’s running mate, Martha Robertson, married Minneapolis businessman William Meyers on Wednesday. The couple met at the Minneapolis Golf Club, where they both serve as directors.

ï Although Governor Ventura is not seeking a second term, he has not been absent from the campaign horse race.

Ventura posted a statement on his official, taxpayer-funded Web site June 27 supporting Penny’s candidacy.

The governor removed the statement after Republicans threatened to file a formal complaint.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.