Candidates want to offer alternatives
By Scott Wente
St. Paul Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL - One candidate touts his experience as senator - all eight official days of it.
Another tests the limits of Internet-based campaigning with quirky messages like calling for an end to the penny.
Still another believes cleaning house in Congress will allow for new ideas just as torching a prairie promotes new plant growth.
Welcome to the Independence Party's U.S. Senate primary, where some of the seven candidates use folksy shtick to make up for thin campaign wallets in their long-shot efforts to give Minnesotans an alternative to Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and likely Democratic challenger Al Franken.
The primary contest, to be settled Sept. 9, includes two candidates familiar to Independence Party followers: Jack Uldrich, a former party chairman and congressional hopeful, and Dean Barkley, a former candidate and Jesse Ventura confidant whom the ex-governor appointed to complete Sen. Paul Wellstone's term after the Democrat died in a 2002 plane crash.
Uldrich and Barkley filed for office shortly before the deadline - and after Ventura announced he would not run - but neither had the party's official backing. That went to Austin sweet-corn farmer Stephen Williams, who carries the endorsement but faces opponents with more name recognition.
Candidates Darryl Stanton, Bill Dahn, former Willmar resident Kurt Anderson and Doug Williams fill out the primary ballot. Williams so far has not running a visible campaign. Stanton challenged U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the 2006 Democratic primary. Anderson has been involved in past Independence and Democratic party efforts. Dahn drew scant support in previous runs for office and is better known for the restraining order he was given after protesting outside a television studio Ventura used to record a cable show.
With scarce campaign coffers the Independence Party hopefuls are flaunting catchy messages they hope appeal to voters. The leading candidates - Uldrich, Barkley and the endorsed Williams - share at least one message: government controlled by Democrats and Republicans is not working.
"They only know how to play the game the way Washington thinks it should be played," Uldrich said.
Independence Party Senate bids have not panned out in years past; the 2006 candidate garnered just 3 percent of the vote. The party's primary victor stands a better chance in the general election this year, Stephen Williams said, because Congress has record-low public approval ratings, the economy is faltering and people are struggling.
"These are all the results of the failures of the Democrats and Republicans for years," he said.
The endorsed Williams is making health care his top campaign issue, claiming the country should enact a national sales tax to pay for Social Security benefits and universal health insurance, rather than rely on payroll taxes.
The leading candidates all decry the lack of congressional attention to the national deficit and debt, and list health care and energy as top issues.
"This isn't a helpless cause," Barkley said. "People are so fed up. They have had it. They don't like either party now."
Still, most of their policy differences are subtle, making visibility and electability a key issue. Barkley argues he would have the best shot against Franken and Coleman because of his name recognition and the experience he gained helping to broker a few legislative deals during his two-month stint in the Senate.
"Dean's going to be formidable, but he's not unbeatable," said Uldrich, a friend of Barkley's.
Uldrich is running an almost exclusively Internet-based campaign and has released Web ads. In a recent ad he calls for elimination of the penny, claiming it costs double its value to produce and is almost as worthless as the two-party political system, while asking voters to donate pennies to his campaign and urge others to do the same.
"We're going to try a lot and some of the things are going to fail," Uldrich said recently of his campaign strategy.
Williams, the southern Minnesota farmer, said he is not deterred by his leading opponents' better name recognition among the party activists who will show up at the voting booth.
"I'm a strong believer in the primary process," he said. "I also realize that if I can't prevail over Jack and Dean and the other four candidates in the primary, I wouldn't be able to prevail over Franken and Coleman either."