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Wednesday morning, Dean Barkley cleaned out his campaign office in Plymouth and bought new tires for his 1999 Cadillac STS. A day after losing his third bid for the U.S. Senate, he had only one plan in mind: Get out of town.
Barkley, the Independence Party candidate who won 15 percent of the vote in the contest against Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and DFLer Al Franken, planned to jump into his car Wednesday night and drive 18 hours to Austin, Texas, for a week of golfing and relaxation with friends. (Singer Willie Nelson's name was mentioned.)
He said he hadn't read any newspapers, watched any TV or surfed the Internet on Wednesday for the latest election news. He had little interest in the recount drama, but planned a call to congratulate Coleman, who had declared victory after emerging Wednesday with a slim advantage.
"I just need to get away for a while," Barkley said over an Angus burger lunch at a Plymouth sports bar. "Clear my head."
Barkley said he knew losing was a real possibility, and he laughed when friend Arnold Palmer, a horse breeder and racer, more than once declared, "We're celebrating Dean's victory!" But silent spells also plagued him.
"Look at Dean's face," Palmer later said quietly to a reporter. "That's disappointment."
"What?" said Barkley, 58. "Are you lying again?"
"You win some, you lose some," Palmer told the reporter. "You lay [horses that don't win] off for a year and you try them again. [Barkley] loves politics."
Barkley made unsuccessful bids for the office in 1994 and 1996, but he won enough votes to give the Independence Party official major-party status in the state. In 2002, he served briefly as one of Minnesota's U.S. senators, when Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed him to complete the term of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.
Although Barkley hoped to win and at least break 20 percent Tuesday, he said he's proud of his 15 percent showing, the highest for an IP Senate candidate in Minnesota history.
"We made huge steps in this race," he said, referring also to 1,000 new donors who contributed to his campaign.
Barkley said he'll stay active in the IP, recruiting candidates for the next governor's race and other offices, but said it's "highly unlikely" that he will run for office of any kind again, partly because of the expense. He plans to restart his law practice to support himself and help pay for his two children's college educations. He said he may also return to his previous job, driving a bus for Metro Mobility.
Some supporters weren't letting go as easily. At lunch a waitress came by Barkley's table with a plate of M&M cookies and said, "You're still Senator Barkley to us."
Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391