Too bad Shelley Madore doesn't dabble in witchcraft. Then maybe she'd get noticed.
Sadly, the feisty Democrat running for Minnesota's Second District congressional seat is no Christine O'Donnell, the telegenic Tea Party succubus from Delaware whose campaign for the Senate has mesmerized the media. (O'Donnell now has a TV ad in which she denies being a witch, but, as David Letterman pointed out, isn't that what you'd expect a witch to say?) Madore merely has tried to run a serious campaign on the issues. Naturally, then, she has received virtually no attention in her run against hardheaded conservative John Kline, the Republican incumbent.
This is unfortunate for the Second District, which includes southern suburbs of the Twin Cities and extends almost to Rochester and Mankato. But it shows that, although we live in an era of nonstop political spin, fundamental weaknesses remain in the ways in which we pay attention to -- or ignore -- the issues of the day.
The media either go gaga or go to sleep. In the northern suburbs, it's gaga all the way: Republican Michele Bachmann and her opponent, Democrat Tarryl Clark, have drawn donations and attention from near and far. Still, just 40 percent of likely voters supported Clark in a recent poll, and the New York Times' influential "FiveThirtyEight" website gives Clark tiny 1.2 percent odds of beating Bachmann.
It's hard not to conclude that most of the attention to Minnesota's Sixth District race is due to the flamboyant incumbent, not her worthy challenger. But at least Bachmann has agreed to debate Clark three times. That will allow voters to consider their choices and balance their view of the candidates, evaluating their message and their performance. However the race turns out, that's good for the voters.
John Kline isn't about to let that kind of thing happen in the Second District.
Other than a 25-minute joint appearance on radio Oct. 26, Kline has refused to meet Madore. Kline has been so elusive that the frustrated Madore has taken to hopping into a car when there is a John Kline sighting and racing to see if she can confront him in hopes of sparking a debate. She came close at Dozinky Days in New Prague last month, but says Kline got into a car and sped off before she could nab him.
Maybe she should make a Michael Moore movie: "John and Me." But movies cost money. And Madore, who knocked off the DFL's endorsed candidate in the August primary, has precious little: She had raised $33,000 by July (she says she's hoping for far more), compared with $1.1 million for Kline, a favorite of the corporate and conservative groups lavishing money on GOP candidates (one donation that would be worthy of debating: $5,000 from the Koch Industries PAC, the oil business owned by the kooky Koch brothers, the billionaires who put millions into the Tea Party).
Madore's chances of knocking off Kline are zilch, according to the experts, but that's not much different from the estimate of Clark's chances. And even if Madore is dead certain to lose, it doesn't justify putting a race for Congress into a black hole. Kline stands in line to become chair of the House Education and Labor Committee if the GOP, as expected, takes back control of the House of Representatives.
He deserves close scrutiny, and so does his opponent. And elections are the only way in which the job gets done. Refusing to debate your challenger is not acceptable.
It used to be done all the time: Arrogant incumbents expecting easy victories often behaved as if their opponents did not exist. And arrogance knows no party: Republican Fourth District candidate Teresa Collett had to badger DFL incumbent Betty McCollum to debate; one is scheduled for Oct. 21.
Kline avoids the spotlight because he is almost invisible outside the Second District and he likes it that way. He is no lightning rod, like Bachmann. But he is just as much a hard-core conservative; like Bachmann, he voted against health care reform and the economic stimulus package. Agreeing to debate Madore probably would not change the results on Nov. 2, but it would offer the chance to educate the voters.
Why can't Johnnie debate?
A request to interview Kline went unanswered, except for a terse e-mailed statement from the campaign that Kline "looks forward to continuing his ongoing dialogue with constituents in the coming weeks." But if he wanted dialogue with constituents, not just supporters, he'd debate his underdog opponent. All voters should say so.
"Is he afraid to defend his record?" Madore asks, in the standard jab taken at incumbents who won't debate. Possibly. But I think it's way worse than that.
I don't think John Kline refuses to debate because he's afraid. I think he won't debate because he doesn't think he has to.
Nick Coleman is at email@example.com.