Commentary: Our Senate candidates are moving to the center
ST. PAUL - Mark Kennedy and Amy Klobuchar are rushing toward the political center on Minnesota's geographic fringes. In the U.S. Senate race, Klobuchar accuses Kennedy of running away from President Bush, after the congressman appeared with Bush ...
ST. PAUL - Mark Kennedy and Amy Klobuchar are rushing toward the political center on Minnesota's geographic fringes.
In the U.S. Senate race, Klobuchar accuses Kennedy of running away from President Bush, after the congressman appeared with Bush in commercials his last two elections. If Kennedy is trying to look like a political moderate, Klobuchar is doing the same. Both know they cannot win the Nov. 7 election campaign by extolling extreme positions.
It felt a bit surreal when Republican Senate Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky stopped by the Minnesota Capitol the other day to support Kennedy's bid for the U.S. Senate, calling the Republican congressman an "independent."
Democrats hurriedly pointed out the independent label won't stick. Kennedy has a record of casting 95 percent of his votes for Republican positions.
"If Kennedy is so bi-partisan, why did he call on a Republican instead of a Democrat?" asked Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party spokeswoman Jess McIntosh.
Historically, the whip has been the most partisan party leader in a legislative body. It is his job to round up votes to support the party's position on issues. He and his assistants "whip" colleagues into shape so they vote for the party.
So why would McConnell be in Minnesota promoting Kennedy's so-called independence? He was pretty up front: Minnesotans don't want an overly partisan senator.
McConnell said he works a lot with Democrats because, in practice, most controversial issues need 60 votes to pass the 100-member body - and neither party has had 60 senators for years. Even so, the Kentucky senator has an even stronger GOP voting record than Kennedy.
There was no doubt, McConnell's visit was partisan.
"I don't see any way that Democrats can gain control of the Senate if Mark Kennedy is successful," he told reporters.
Before heading to a Kennedy fundraiser, the senator made no bones why he was in Minnesota for the second time this year: "This is our best opportunity in the country to pick up a Democratic seat."
That is why the Klobuchar-Kennedy race is so important. Democrats want to take control of the Senate, and need to keep Minnesota's Senate seat to do that. Democrat Mark Dayton is retiring after a single term.
A half-dozen Senate seats separate the two parties. For the last several months, national polls showed Democrats doing well, with the possibility of taking the majority.
In the past few days, polls have shown a slight swing, giving Republicans and Democrats running for Congress about an equal chance. If anything, the new polls signal a more intense Minnesota Senate campaign approaching. And it already was one of the most closely watched and highly funded campaigns in the country.
For Minnesotans, that means Klobuchar and Kennedy will work even harder to get their attention, especially in western and southern Minnesota.
Recent interviews with political strategists showed those rural areas are the key to statewide races. The reason is simple - farmers and others in those parts of the state generally are politically moderate. They can vote for candidates from either party, usually picking those who also are moderate.
Attorney General Mike Hatch, who is running for governor, said up to 18 percent of Minnesota voters are undecided in his race. The same probably is true for the Senate race, with many of the undecides in western and southern parts of the state.
That means that while candidates want to appear they are in the center of the political spectrum, they need to make their case on the edges of the state. That gives many rural Minnesotans more power than usual, and the national political spotlight will shine brightly on them.
St. Paul Bureau Chief Don Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .