Dayton v. Kennedy

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


Day Two: Part Deux

With the news of Patty Wetterling apparently not running for anything, the Kennedy campaign moves on to Madison, Minnesota where one local recently lost his life in Iraq along with two other Minnesotans, a fact obviously noted by Kennedy. Continuing on the campaign’s ”It’s A Small World After All” theme, one of Kennedy’s nephews knew the Madison soldier and went to high school with him. Kennedy’s sister also teaches in Madison.

Children of the Corn

But the day of ”surprises galore” has more in store for Kennedy. At the Alexandria Perkins, Kennedy meets a 20+ person crowd packed into a small room. 3 of the 20 are school children who have obviously been coached by someone---and from their questions, mostly likely their teachers. They criticize privatization of Social Security and Kennedy forcefully states, ”no one supports privatization,” explaining his answer that he hates the term because what it has come to be defined as (basically playing roulette with seniors’ money) isn’t what it should be and isn’t what he’s willing to explore. Still, it’s an answer that might have his staff’s hair on edge. One child asks questions him about his voting record with the ACLU. Kennedy’s pithy response is ”the ACLU is the enemy of some of my friends.” The remark gets laughs except from another child who immediately asks if he’s an ”enemy of education” because of his 17% voting record with the NEA. Kennedy tells the kid to broaden his research of such topics but the kid strays further into brat territory by then immediately asking if Kennedy supports ”deficit spending.” At this point, Frank Sinatra, should be smacking around Laurence Harvey ala The Manchurian Candidate (you know, the good version), but Kennedy simply calls the question for what it is, use of ”angry dialogue.” I tell Kennedy on the bus, ”I think we’ve found your opponent” at which point I realize I should stick to taking notes.

Concerns of Hippies and Harvests

On the bus we discover that the 6th District DFL has sent out an email looking for protesters to tonight’s big event in St. Cloud. Kennedy and staff discuss what to do and quickly begin making phone calls to counteract any public scene but they’re not sure what to expect.

Down a country back road in Lowry we find our next destination---a farm for a quick meeting with local farmers. Given the falling temps, we met inside the location’s garage, filled with racecars and other NASCAR gear. With an intimate crowd of around 15, Kennedy admits that it’s getting harder to pass farm bills because fewer and fewer congressmen represent primarily rural districts. Only ¼ of the Congress comes from farm districts. Kennedy is again treated to tough questions but again some members of his audience don’t love his answer, but the difference between an event in rural Minnesota and suburban Minnesota becomes evident afterwards. Many of those who asked the toughest questions of Kennedy are shaking hands, smiling and joking with him one-on-one. There are no hard feelings, in part because they generally support Kennedy. The rural reaction to Kennedy’s campaign is tremendous. He’s been drawing crowds as if he’s campaign in February of 2006 not 2005. Why? Because the rural residents identify with Kennedy---one local mayor says he’s supporting Kennedy because of his farming background. Rural Minnesota, be it Republican or Democrat, is feeling isolated and forgotten by the increasing suburban focused state representatives. Kennedy is quickly becoming their statewide champion.

Bambi Be Damned

Terribly behind schedule, we barrel towards St. Cloud. Kennedy is concerned about the protesters still; worried that violence might occur if they are in the same room. He doesn’t want a bigger scene. In our haste, our National Guard driver Aaron (soon to be leaving for Iraq) reveals he hasn’t slept in more than 24 hours, causing horrified faces to emerge on all those within earshot. And Aaron’s alertness is put to the test when a herd of 8 deer cross the RV’s path. Heidi, talking on the phone at the time, blurts out ”we’re about to hit a deer” just as we nearly clip Bambi’s tale. Fear not. No deer were hit.

Supporters and Successors

St. Cloud, at last. And only a half-hour late. ”I hate being late” Kennedy keeps muttering. We round the corner at the Holiday Inn half-expecting to find throngs of angry protesters wielding torches and pitchforks. There’s nobody. Check that, there are more than 40 supporters and many Young Republicans who give Kennedy a standing ovation as he enters the room, welcomed by his brother David who continues yesterday’s intro as Mark’s ”younger and better looking younger brother.” As Kennedy begins his stump speech, which he’s given probably two-dozen times, he halts. The audience hesitates with him. Did he forget his place? Is there something is his throat? Did a groupie flash him? No, apparently the Chair of the 6th District DFL has brought his video camera to the front row to document Kennedy’s speech. Kennedy politely shakes his hand, and continues his speech---about two rows past them giving the DFL Chair a wonderful video of Kennedy’s back. The DFL Chair asks about Social Security, reminding the Congressman and the audience that Kennedy was part of a group who sent a letter to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan urging him to support individual accounts. Kennedy responses, ”I don’t support privatization.” I wince. Kennedy goes on, as before, to explain what he means. What part of that exchange will appear in a DFL commercial?

The St. Cloud event has also brought out Kennedy’s hopeful successors. Phil Krinkie talks up Mark’s wife Debbie while Jim Knobloch shakes hands as well. Knobloch is being supported by Kennedy’s former Chief of Staff Pat Fiske, which Knobloch is more than happy to tell anyone he can. While Krinkie and Knobloch are fresh to campaign, an exhausted Kennedy attends the Minnesota Waterfowl Association and shakes hands. He speaks very briefly (”they didn’t come here to hear me talk”) and stays just long enough for a rabid supporter to tell him, ”Congressman, give ‘em hell!”

A Good End To A Long Day

The day ends with one more surprise. As Kennedy and I walk into the Holiday Inn, the Congressman fighting a scratchy throat, we meet a member of the hotel’s cleaning staff who walks up to Kennedy. The two begin talking, Kennedy’s health secondary to satisfying the beaming smile on this young man’s face. It turns out the young man knows Kennedy’s eldest son. Their conversation finished, we turn towards our hotel rooms. Kennedy looks at me and says, ”Small world” with a dash of disbelief.


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