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Bills' experience with the federal government at core of his message

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BLOOMINGTON -- Federal government requirements on a home day care center his wife runs illustrate why Kurt Bills wants to be a U.S. senator.

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Bills and his wife, Cindy, spend 80 hours preparing their income tax returns.

"Simply put, it takes too long," Bills said. "You have to simplify the tax code so people can run small- and medium-sized businesses."

The federal government mandates too much from small businesses and citizens, the Republican added, singling out one of those requirements: "We now have to throw away all of our cribs that were manufactured before June of 2011."

That cost of more than $1,000 illustrates a bigger issue to Bills. "I know this sounds like a very simple, little thing, but this is indicative of what is happening all over the country."

Such comments likely are heard in a lot of Minnesota homes, and supporters say they would be well accepted, but Bills is not well known in those homes.

Minnesota House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said he is confident Republicans will support Bills, who won the party's endorsement thanks to the libertarian Ron Paul wing of the party. Others would support him, too, Dean said, if they could hear him.

But the underfunded Bills campaign has not been able to reach out.

The Republican served one term on the Rosemount City Council and is wrapping up his only term in the state House as he runs for the $174,000-a-year six-year Senate job against Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Bills, 42, grew up in south central Wisconsin and said as a boy on Friday nights would wait at home staring at the citizens' band radio, waiting for his father to radio in that he was returning from working far away. When he was in school, he said, the family heated the house with firewood.

Bills faced tough financial times growing up, and that has not changed as a statewide candidate.

Klobuchar, who polls show to be the most popular Minnesota politician, enjoyed a $4.8 million bank balance in the last pre-election financial report. Bills, who polls show as much as 30 points behind, reported $68,000 on hand.

"We have been climbing the ladder and that is what we will continue to do," Bills said during an interview in his sparse Bloomington campaign office.

"Anyone who took on Amy Klobuchar this year took on an uphill battle," Dean said.

Bills' campaign has attacked the media for not asking Klobuchar tough questions. But, he said, voters should not rely on the media to decide on a candidate.

"Don't you have to have some kind of faith that they will investigate?" he asked about voters. "Heaven forbid that people might actually have to go out and do some investigation about people who are running."

Taking on both Democrats and Republicans, he said the government gridlock Americans see is not between spending more or spending less. "We seem to find ways to spend more."

Talking to 14 Republicans at a Minnetonka senior citizens apartment complex recently, Bills opened with a common line about students in his Rosemount High School economics class: "They were seeing an incredible deficit of leadership."

If he somehow can make it past the obstacles in a Democratic-leaning state, Bills said he would become an instant leader.

"I walk through the doors of the United States Senate from Minnesota and I'm a Republican who just came from 30 points down to beat somebody with all the political power, all the political infrastructure, all the money in a blue state," Bills said. "I believe at that point, more Democrats will listen. Otherwise, in two years, I will be in your state campaigning."

Republicans would pay attention, too, he said.

Such upset wins seldom happen, he admitted. "This would be a fairly unique election."

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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