Coleman and Republicans revive their campaigns

Libby George

Responding to what Republican Party State Chairman Rob Eibensteiner called a “memorial service for Paul Wellstone (that) became a ‘Get out the Vote’ rally,” Republicans on Wednesday encouraged party members to get involved – and asked radio and television stations to give them airtime equivalent to Tuesday’s three hour Wellstone memorial.

Crowds packed the garage at O’Gara’s Brewpub in St. Paul on Wednesday night until security closed the doors to overflowing supporters. Inside, people chanted “Norm!” for senate candidate Norm Coleman, and all the Republican candidates for statewide office spoke.

“These are difficult times in our lives, but you have to move on,” Coleman said. “We’re doing what we should be doing and I feel that Sen. Wellstone would have wanted it that way.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty said the memorial ended the campaigning lull following Wellstone’s death Friday.

“They served notice that the campaign season is back,” Pawlenty said.

Coleman and Pawlenty picked up the trail early this morning, traveling across Minnesota with fresh support from GOP members infuriated with the Wellstone memorial.

“The phones have been literally ringing off the hook at the Coleman campaign,” Eibensteiner said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “Just during that four hour period, we received $150,000 in donations from people across the state.”

At the conference, Eibensteiner said the GOP sent a letter requesting all radio and television stations correct the “imbalance” created by coverage the Wellstone memorial.

“It was billed as a memorial, but it was a planned political rally,” Eibensteiner said. “I’m simply asking for equal airtime.”

Eibensteiner suggested stations either cover the upcoming events, including a possible George W. Bush visit Sunday, or air Senate candidate debates.

“If we had a series of debates now between the Senate candidates, it would be a very nice start,” he said.

On Wednesday, KSTP and the Star Tribune announced a debate scheduled for Oct. 28 between Senate candidates will now take place Friday.

University political science professor Bill Flanigan said equal air time would not help Republicans.

“The problem for Republicans right now is that no matter what they do, they don’t have much audience,” Flanigan said. “There’s no way they can generate the kind of audience they had at Wellstone’s memorial.”

But assistant political science professor Jamie Druckman said the Wellstone memorial might not help Democrats.

“I think as far as centrist votes, some of them could have been a little turned off by the partisanship (of the event),” Druckman said.

He added Democratic voters would not necessarily support newly appointed DFL candidate Walter Mondale.

“Anybody who’s under 30 has no political experience with Mondale,” Druckman said. “Wellstone had a huge grassroots following, and it will be interesting to see if (voters) do the same for Mondale.”

Audience or not, Coleman indirectly aimed speeches at Mondale on Wednesday night.

“You don’t get things Ö by entitlement, and that’s true all over Minnesota,” Coleman said. “You get them by hard work.”

Swamped by supporters, Coleman received emotional responses from the O’Gara’s crowd.

“He sat through torture, in my opinion, and he did it with integrity,” said a tearful Jessica Sundheim, who drove four hours to see Coleman. “Even Jesse Ventura, who isn’t a Republican, got up and left and (Coleman) stayed even when he was booed.”

Campaign workers said Coleman will announce events on a day-by-day basis, and will work non-stop until the election.

Libby George covers national politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]