Third-party can­di­date rocks tight Min­nesota Se­nate race

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY AN­DREA BILLUPS

An In­de­pen­dence Party can­di­date with ties to a for­mer Min­nesota gov­er­nor is throw­ing an un­ex­pected wrench into the na­tion’s most ex­pen­sive Se­nate race af­ter just two months on the stump, steal­ing sup­port from both Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Norm Cole­man and his chal­lenger, Demo­cratic comic Al Franken.

Dean Barkley, a lawyer ap­pointed by then-Gov. Jesse Ven­tura to serve out the late Paul Well­stone’s Se­nate term in 2002, is polling at 14 per­cent among Min­nesota vot­ers, who some say are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly weary of the bick­er­ing be­tween Mr. Cole­man and for­mer “Satur­day Night Live” co­me­dian Mr. Franken of the state’s Demo­cratic FarmerLa­bor Party.

A Min­neapo­lis Star Tri­bune poll re­leased two weeks ago showed sup­port ebbing for both ma­jor-party candidates, with Mr. Cole­man tak­ing the big­gest hit, lead­ing Mr. Franken by just four per­cent­age points, 41 per­cent to 37 per­cent.

Since the pa­per’s last poll, con­ducted in May, Mr. Cole­man’s sup­port has dropped by 10 per­cent while Mr. Franken’s has fallen by 7 per­cent. By con­trast, a new KSTP/Sur­vey USA poll has Mr. Cole­man at 41 per­cent and Mr. Franken at 40 per­cent, a sta­tis­ti­cal dead heat.

“The Barkley can­di­dacy is le­git­i­mate, and he’s do­ing well,” said Larry Ja­cobs, di­rec­tor of the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota’s Cen­ter for the Study of Pol­i­tics and Gov­er­nance. “Both Cole­man and Franken have re­ally high neg­a­tives, so I think clearly Min­nesota vot­ers have ques­tions about both of th­ese candidates.”

Mr. Barkley, a founder of the Min­nesota Re­form Party, faces an up­hill bat­tle on a shoe­string bud­get as the front-run­ners have al­ready raised a record $27 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures re­leased in June. On Sept. 19, MoveOn.org is­sued a let­ter of ap­peal from for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore to vot­ers on be­half of three Demo­cratic con­gres­sional candidates, in­clud­ing Mr. Franken. Mr. Gore is ex­pected to stump for Mr. Franken in Min­nesota next month.

The Barkley cam­paign is do­ing well enough to have been in­cluded in all five can­di­date de­bates — a sched­ule of weekly show­downs start­ing Oct. 5 and end­ing Nov. 2, on which the three cam­paigns signed off two weeks ago.

Though Mr. Barkley, 58, ini­tially seemed the great­est threat to Mr. Franken, his can­di­dacy seems to be threat­en­ing Mr. Cole­man the most, said Mr. Ja­cobs, who de­scribes Mr. Barkley as “a guy who thrives on his au­then­tic­ity.”

“I think part of the rea­son Repub- li­cans may be flee­ing from Norm Cole­man to Dean Barkley is that they are not en­tirely con­vinced that Norm Cole­man truly em­braces Repub­li­can prin­ci­ples,” Mr. Ja­cobs said. “Dean Barkley’s mes­sage of fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity and bal­anced bud­get has re­ally ap­pealed to th­ese vot­ers who may see Norm Cole­man as a con­ven­tional Wash­ing­ton politi­cian.

“The ini­tial sce­nario was that the anti-in­cum­bent voter would split be­tween Franken and Barkley,” Mr. Ja­cobs added. “But what we are see­ing more re­cently is that Dean Barkley is draw­ing sup­port from Repub­li­cans. That sug­gests that the abil­ity of Cole­man to lock down his own base has been dif­fi­cult.”

Mr. Cole­man’s spokesman, Luke Friedrich, said the cam­paign ex­pects a close race and feels good about where it is thus far in the con­test. De­spite re­cent polls, he says Mr. Barkley is likely to cause more prob­lems for Mr. Franken.

“I think there are a lot of ques­tions to an­swer about Al Franken’s tem­per­a­ment, his abil­ity to work with peo­ple he dis­agrees with, his tax records and lack of ex­pe­ri­ence,” Mr. Friedrich said. “Ul­ti­mately, Norm Cole­man is the can­di­date who has the abil­ity to de­liver on is­sues that are the most im­por­tant to Min­nesotans.”

Mr. Franken’s cam­paign, which has hit Mr. Cole­man hard on what it says have been eth­i­cal lapses and has con­nected him to poli­cies of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, said it still be­lieves the elec­tion is a two-man con­test, even with Mr. Barkley’s mount­ing sup­port.

“It’s clear that there is a grow­ing con­sen­sus for change in Min­nesota, as ev­i­denced by Norm Cole­man’s de­cline in the polls. Dean Barkley is a se­ri­ous can­di­date, but we ul­ti­mately ex­pect this race to be­come a choice be­tween Norm Cole­man’s more-of-the-same ap­proach and Al Franken’s bold ideas to help the mid­dle class,” said Mr. Franken’s spokes­woman, Colleen Mur­ray.

“This is go­ing to be an ex­cit­ing race, and it’s sure to come right down to the wire. We are go­ing to spend the next 46 days point­ing out the stark dif­fer­ences be­tween Norm Cole­man’s sup­port of Ge­orge Bush’s failed poli­cies and Al Franken’s plans for change.”

Mr. Barkley’s spokesman, Christo­pher Tr­us­cott, said his can­di­date got into the race af­ter Mr. Ven­tura, his long­time friend and men­tor, de­cided not to run. Mr. Barkley, who ran Kinky Fried­man’s quixotic in­de­pen­dent cam­paign for Texas gov­er­nor in 2006, wanted to give Min­nesota vot­ers a third-party choice.

“We’re vi­able be­cause peo­ple are shop­ping around. That’s a di­rect re­sult of Franken and Cole­man not clos­ing the deal,” Mr. Tr­us­cott said of Mr. Barkley’s high poll num­bers, which sig­nal Min­nesotans’ re­cep­tive­ness to in­di­vid­u­als, rather than party loy­alty. “Their ads, which are like watch­ing a school­yard fight, have been highly ef­fec­tive. Both of their neg­a­tives are go­ing way up, and both teams de­serve credit for tak­ing each other down.”

Mr. Tr­us­cott said Mr. Barkley, who served as Mr. Ven­tura’s di­rec­tor of strate­gic and long-range plan­ning, is out­pac­ing the for­mer gov­er­nor, who was polling about 10 per­cent in Septem­ber 1998 be­fore he went on to sur­prise victory as a Re­form Party can­di­date in Novem­ber of that year. “All of the vari­ables are lin­ing up nicely, and peo­ple are giv­ing us a good look.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Dean Barkley

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