Dayton v. Kennedy

Returning Senator Mark Dayton to the Ranks of the Idle Rich in 2006

2/24/2005

Day One: On "The Busy K"

At some point between Eugene Kennedy's grand piano playing (the key to a winning campaign, he says) and stopping an entire U.S. Senate campaign to see a relative practicing for the opening of a local play, it hits you. You're not a part of a campaign, but a family vacation.

That's the atmosphere on the Kennedy RV on day three of Congressman Mark Kennedy's statewide campaign kick-off. Sure, it's a family vacation hallmarked by speeches given almost every hour and a constant barrage of phone calls, aggressive reporters and the usuals of politics. Still, the Kennedy campaign is a family affair and by the time a three-term congressman is showing you the room he and three brothers slept in growing up (a trademark of his stump speech), you'd have to be cynic of biblical propositions not to feel some pain of regret how politics dehumanizes candidates.

The day begins at the Mermaid in Mounds View to a 50+ person crowd at 7:30 on a Wednesday morning. Kennedy begins his stump speech, essentially the same as his announcement speech focusing on "replacing Washington values with Minnesota values." The audience is eager to meet Kennedy, some of them very unaware of his background and history. As the day wears on you realize a fair number (although perhaps not a majority) are seriously interested in what Kennedy has to say and are not turning out simply because they already support him. Having seen other statewide campaigns make similar tours, Kennedy's standard presentation differs from most in his willingess to answer questions in group form. While other candidate take questions one on one (often to potential problems), Kennedy seems to enjoy answering questions from his audiences.

Kennedy's campaign is eager to give away old "Kennedy for Congress" coffee mugs---collecter items they say. Morning coffee also reveals the DFL rumor of Governor Tim Pawlenty supporting Kennedy's potential party rival Gil Gutknecht to be absurd---Pawlenty, Coleman and Kline will be hosting a Kennedy St. Patrick's Day event (but the campaign claims they have not received Pawlenty's endorsement). More support from activists follow as Kennedy burns those cell phone minutes dialing for delegates in between locations.

A 22 degree outdoor event in Stillwater follows. The difficultly? The frigid temp and a snow-filled park. The perks? A picture-perfect backdrop and some press. Kennedy tells his audience they should get a "gold star" for coming out in this weather. Afterwards, Kennedy might have wished he could have given the reporters a time-out. In the warmth of the RV, one of the three reporters, an agressive sort from MPR, goes after Kennedy, nearly scolding him for starting his campaign so early. It "floors" him, the reporter says, to see anyone start running so soon. Kennedy calmly reminds his press audience that the winning campaigns of 2004 were the ones that got started in January or February two years out. The standard charges follow: Is Kennedy worried about being "in lockstep" with the administration? Can Kennedy do his job and run for Senate? And of course, Social Security. Does Kennedy favor private accounts or not? (say that question again about four times and you'll get the idea of what it was like). Kennedy wisely moves the question away from personal accounts to general reform, knowing the term "privatization" currently has been scandalized.

Next is St. Paul and the GOP Senate caucus where Kennedy is surrounded like a rock star. Senators practically get in line to meet with him and shake his hand as Senator Brian LeClair acts as Kennedy's escort to this ball. The Congressman's machine-like determination to meet and greet every senator puts him behind schedule but likely just made him the GOP nominee. While in LeClair's office, Kennedy calls in for a phone interview with MPR on the deaths of the three Minnesotans killed in Iraq, one of whom was a classmate of his nephews. "These men will be treated as heroes for generations to come," Kennedy says. MPR suggests the deaths will lessen support for war, a comment that clearly doesn't sit well with the Congressman.

After a stop in Bloomington at Schwan's frozen foods customer service HQ, it's off to Chaska and a public endorsement by Rep. John Kline. Kline calls Kennedy a "friend and mentor", even joking about the early days of the 2002 election when neither was sure who was going to run in what district. And bloggers outnumbered local press. 4 bloggers arrived, including yours truly, versus one local reporter. Jo and Mark of Jo's Attic (or now, merely the Attic) were joined by Billy from Cyber Ecology. Not only are the bloggers seemingly taking over, but I was shocked how many people knew of DvK or The First Ring---and didn't meet the description of the sites with pleasant smiles or furrowed brows.

Without a moment to collect ourselves, we're off to the "Busy K", or the Kennedy compound in Watertown. Picking up Kennedy's wife, Debbie, and dropping off a volunteer, we're then on to Little Falls and a packed room in Perkins (later bringing the observation, "could Amy Klobuchar get that many people from Little Falls to show up?", suggesting the campaign is hearing their full on speculation about potential DFL opponents). Then it's on to the home of Kennedy's parents for an evening of family history, piano playing and an endless supply of family photos.

It's getting late (although you'll be reading this as posted sometime tomorrow morning) and we're off again at 7:15 to pump gas at the station where Kennedy first worked. More from the road soon! And many thanks to Eugene Kennedy for helping get internet access to allow for this post to be posted!

--Posted by First Ringer

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