Dayton v. Kennedy

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


Day Three: “The Heart of the Lion’s Den”

Campaigns are about one major thing---pacing. Mark Kennedy’s learned it, I have not. After a night of drinking with staff and attempting to write (which don’t go together well, in case you wondered), I looked like I might have been the one campaigning all week, not the Congressman.

Bike Paths and Back Page Ads

Kennedy was up early, doing his job in the St. Cloud area awarding grants and other sources of funding to the area. Returning to the Holiday Inn, he razes me about not joining him for these ”official events.” There’s no time to standing around making fun of me, we’ve got an RV to catch to hit Duluth before noon---”we’re going right into the heart of the lion’s den,” Kennedy remarks with a glint in his eye. Kennedy seems to relish going to Duluth either because most Republicans are tanned for their pelts or because he likes remarking on 8th Congressional Rep. Jim Oberstar supporting more bike paths in the 8th as we travel along a bumpy and broken 35W North. Kennedy is attending a Duluth Chamber of Commerce lunch and is concerned his standard speech isn’t appropriate for the audience. He and Heidi concluded the crowd will be mostly Republicans and therefore they’re safe with a few changes.

As we ride, Eugene Kennedy shows his son the back of today’s USA Today with an ad on Social Security by the AARP. It’s another scare ad and Kennedy sighs with a look of minor frustration. Kennedy’s mother spends the drive looking for news articles to give her son---as she has several times already this trip. The drive is long and Kennedy spends a small portion of it on a radio interview for a Christian station---a fact he forgets before he goes on the air. The interview goes more like the standard political ones he’s already had in many small radio markets across the state. After he hangs up, with almost no discussion of values issues, Kennedy is surprised to learn the station’s format.

Pin Cushion

Kennedy’s energy has returned to him this morning and he’s using it on me. He pokes fun at my other blog name, jokingly asking if it had something to do with the Lord of the Rings. He says he likes the name, ”it has a good ring to it,” he says, his smile barely concealed. I’m tempted to tell him not to quit his day job, but I guess he’s already in the middle of a very expensive job hunt. But before that search is over, he’s still got a job to do and does it in the RV, talking with Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington) about Kennedy’s transportation bill. The two joke and laugh and as he finishes, Kennedy turns to the rest of the RV saying, ”it’s always helpful to have the father of modern economics on your side.” If you don’t get the joke, here’s some help. Not that you deserve it---didn’t you learn history in school?

Scrolling the Polling

The biggest news of day comes as we await word of Patty Wetterling’s decision. Contrary to yesterday’s news of her not seeking any office, Heidi was told by the 6th District Chair that Wetterling would seek the Senate. A poll conducted by her campaign comes out and seems to prove that statement, although Heidi can’t help but wonder why Wetterling is “announcing” in an email after 12:00pm on a Friday. Flipping through the numbers on his blackberry, Kennedy scans to see how close the numbers come to his campaign’s impression. The poll threw in four DFLers: Wetterling, Klobuchar, Ciresi and Rep. Betty McCollum and three GOPers, Kennedy, Grams and Gutknecht. The numbers, published in National Journal’s The Hotline, were as follows:

Wetterling 47% - Grams 40%
Wetterling 47% - Kennedy 38%
Wetterling 47% - Gutknecht 29%
Klobuchar 40% - Kennedy 39%
Kennedy 42% - Ciresi 36%
Kennedy 38% - McCollum 36%

The Hotline article, ”Patty Takes the Cake” showed Wetterling and Kennedy’s negatives to be equal at 25%, but with Kennedy’s positives at 33% to her 51%. Kennedy isn’t convinced her positive numbers aren’t much more than name ID: ”In reality, our positives aren’t that far apart.” While Wetterling leads Kennedy by 9% among independents, Kennedy leads all other potential DFL opponents among independents, noted prominently by The Hotline. Heidi calls the paper to see what the scope is and learns little more.

Sickening. News.

We arrive at the Kitchi Gammi club in downtown Duluth amid blowing snow. The club is suit and tie so poor Lonney, the campaign’s faithful advance man, can’t enter in his sweater and jeans. With 30+ people in attendance, Kennedy gives a relaxed version of his stump speech and then the group settles down to lunch. Heidi and I sit next to Charlie Bell, the former Republican mayoral candidate in Duluth, who actually managed to make it to the primary. Bell’s uncle was former 3rd Congressional Congressman Clark McGregor. A popular congressman, McGregor challenged Hubert Humphrey in a campaign that, while ultimately unsuccessful (no surprise to McGregor or his nephew), earned McGregor the role as campaign chair of President Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign. Bell told of his uncle’s advice to Nixon after discovering Watergate: ”Apologize. Apologize, tell them everything and the American people will forgive you. Try and hide it and it will destroy you.” Truer words have not been spoken.

Over lunch we discover the Kennedy streak of opponents never seeking office again has been broken, sort of. Wetterling has formed an exploratory committee for Senate. Kennedy slightly grouses that she’ll probably get better coverage from the Star Tribune than his actual announcement---a below the fold article in the Metro section. The conversation begins on the many positives of Wetterling’s entrance: the whole DFL field is stuck in neutral and looking more and more divided on a choice of candidate. All the talk is interesting, but the several days of not taking care of myself have finally caught up. I’ve got a fever and a terrific headache. Kennedy has been teasing me for days about keeping up with them so I put on a brave face, but I’m feeling sick.

Sketch Comedy

The Congressman barely changes out of his suit and tie when we arrive at a Perkins in Duluth. The view, right on Lake Superior, is tremendous. Eugene has tweaked his ankle leaving the RV before and gingerly walks inside as the snow flurries fly around us. The lake looks more like a river with the frozen islands dotting the surface---it would be perfectly beautiful if not for the temperature. But the chilly weather is a fittingly welcome for a Republican to Duluth. The actual reception inside is far warmer. Kennedy believes the reason for the DFL control in the Iron Range is the lack of any Republican voices:

”You ask the people up here: Are you pro-life? Absolutely. Are you pro-second amendment? Don’t take my gun out of my hands. How do you feel about the government? Stay out of my life. How are you going to vote in November? Democrat.”

But there are signs things are changing, the attendees note. ”For the first time, people put out Republican signs in Duluth…and they weren’t stolen,” said an attendee. ”The DFL is in trouble up here,” he says. Some of the attendees want Rod Grams to run against Oberstar, a nice thought but probably unlikely. Much of the conversation is turned towards how Republicans can make a difference in Duluth politics. One attendee says they need more blogs to turn the battle and Kennedy introduces me to the crowd, using my ”bloggerist” joke, already quoted by the National Journal. ”Is that right?”, he jokes. ”We’re making this up as we go,” I reply.

Birth of a Catch Phrase

The day is official over but more waits when the campaign drops me off at my car in Mounds View. Kennedy and his mother and father need a ride to meet Debbie Kennedy for dinner. While driving, Kennedy gives an interview with Hugh Hewitt and Kennedy talks up the blogs, again mentioning me and the ”bloggerist” term. Now that it’s been told to Hugh, everybody will be using it. Had I thought it would catch on, I’d have patented it and charged a nickel for everytime it’s used. While waiting for Debbie Kennedy, the Congressman and I trade Churchill quotes and discuss what exactly blogs are to Eugene. It’s a far cry from merely Wednesday morning when I mostly babbled incoherent baloney to Kennedy’s questions to me. Spending three days with a man and his family can change that.

Credit Where Credit’s Due

I’ve gotten a lot of undeserved credit on this trip. While getting more attention from respected media outlets in the last three days than I probably would have gotten in a lifetime of blogging is fantastic, the real credit needs to go to Gary. This is his baby, his brainchild, his absolute passion. One of the real thrills of this campaign among an uncountable number of thrills was having Gary talk to Mark Kennedy on the drive back from Duluth. I know the two will talk again many times before this campaign finishes, but Gary deserves more respect and credit than he’s received these last few days. I thank him immensely. (Editors note: The smartest thing I ever did with this blog is bringing First Ringer and Doug on board. Thanks, Ringer, but this is your day. "There is no limit to what you can accomplish as long as you don't care who gets the credit." --Ronald W. Reagan)

A complete review is forthcoming, but for the moment, I’m looking forward to sleeping in.


Post a Comment

<< Home