Minnesota's top Democrats gathered in front of the Capitol Wednesday morning to launch a six-day, 31-stop bus tour of the state that's aimed at firing up the party's supporters and motivating them to vote next Tuesday.
Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken, both of whom face voters next week, joined with the party's other statewide candidates, members of Congress and congressional candidates, legislators, the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and party and union activists.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, not on the ballot this year, teased her colleague Franken, whom recent polls have shown sitting on a comfortable lead over GOP challenger Mike McFadden.
"The latest polls have him not 10 votes ahead, but 10 points ahead," Klobuchar said, a reference to Franken's razor-thin win in 2008, which led to a months-long recount and lawsuit.
Dayton's running mate, Tina Smith, related a discussion the two had a day earlier about the governor's view of where his race against Republican Jeff Johnson sits in its final days. Smith said Dayton often jokes that she's "hope" and he's "reality."
"I said, 'how do you feel?'" Smith said. "And he said, I feel like it's a hockey game, and I'm the goalie, and we're one point ahead and we've got two minutes, and anything could happen."
The red, white and blue bus chartered by the party has a busy schedule of stops in the coming days, with rallies on Wednesday alone in Mankato, Albert Lea, Rochester and Winona. Ensuing days bring stops throughout the state, as statewide, congressional and legislative candidates take turns participating.
Minnesota Republicans are not mounting a similar bus tour, but state GOP chairman Keith Downey said on Tuesday that its candidates would be canvassing the state in the coming days and at times making joint appearances, as well as appearing with local legislative candidates.
Johnson campaigned Wednesday morning at a suburban bus rapid transit station, and had plans to do retail campaining later in the day in New Ulm, Fairmont and Worthington. McFadden is campaigning in Duluth with Becky Hall, a local state House candidate.
LAKEVILLE -- Despite Bill Maher, GOP Rep. John Kline feels good.
Kline canvassed neighborhoods here Saturday with state Senate candidate Jon Koznick saying he felt good about his odds of beating Democrat Mike Obermueller.
Kline's 2nd Congressional District was targeted by HBO liberal television host Bill Maher in his "flip a district" contest. Maher targeted Kline's conservative votes and that the bulk of his campaign contributions come from for-profit colleges. Kline is chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee.
"At a time of frustration and gridlock, I've been able to deliver and get legislation passed. People really like that message because they are frustrated with what they think is gridlock. People have more mistrust in their government than maybe any other time in my lifetime," Kline said, over burgers after canvassing. "I feel like I've been able to convey to them that they can trust me."
Maher visited Northfield in October to tout his "flip a district" contest and why he wanted Kline out. He hasn't been back to Minnesota for any public appearances.
Kline said over the weekend Maher's effort "seems to have fizzled."
"It may have worked in reverse because it turns out I've run into a lot of people who do not like Bill Maher," he said.
Obermueller's message is that Kline is too conservative for the district, which narrowly supported President Barack Obama in 2012. He says Kline's partisanship is to blame for the gridlock in Congress.
"You can't give Congressman Kline a pass on the problems he and his Republican colleagues have caused in Washington DC. Voters have 100% control over their own representation, and they can choose a better representative in November," an Obermueller spokesman said, in a statement.
More than $12 million has already been spent to sway the outcome of Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District election.
The vast majority, almost $9 million, has come from outside groups.
The parties, the PACs the interest groups have poured on the cash to re-elect Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan or replace him with Republican challenger Stewart Mills.
The result is that viewers of Eighth District television could see more than 100 ads in the district during the final week -- as well as dozens from supporters and the candidates for U.S. Senate, governor and down ticket races. There are so many ads flooding the northern Minnesota district that television stations are increasing the cost of ads.
Only some of those ads will be directly from U.S. House candidates. Both Nolan and Mills have raised significant cash but neither can compete with the horde of interest groups making their wishes known.
The outside money has largely gone to tear down Nolan and Mills. According to public data, groups have spent $4 million to oppose Mills and almost $3.5 million to oppose Nolan.
With expenditures of $3 million and $2.4 million, respectively, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee are the biggest investors in the district's outcome.
The Rothenberg Political Report recently changed its rating of the race to "Toss-up/Tilt Democrat".
Here's a look at the candidates' fundraising:
WASHINGTON – National Republicans have spent more than $4 million on ads portraying Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson as a man of Washington, a veteran House member who got the federal government to reimburse him for flying his private plane around, lease a couple cars and take junkets.
On Tuesday, state DFL leaders fought back pointing out his GOP opponent Torrey Westrom has also cashed in on publicly supported perks and reimbursements while serving in the state legislature.
“If Sen. Westrom is going to remain silent while out of state groups smear Rep. Peterson, it’s time to hold him accountable for his record of profiting from the taxpayers,” said DFL Chair Ken Martin, in a statement.
Martin pointed out Westrom was named the seventh-highest expense collector in the Minnesota Senate in 2013 — more than doubling his annual salary in per diems, mileage, housing and travel expenses.
From 2002 to 2014, Westrom received $98,477 in per diem payments, according to state House and Senate records compiled by Democrats. In that same timeframe, he received $54,000 in district travel expenses and $119,000 on lodging expenses and $47,000 on mileage expenses.
The National Republican Congressional Committee said from 2005 to 2013, Peterson, who is running for his 13th term, spent $73,976 on money to lease two vehicles. In that same time period, Peterson reimbursed himself $139,481 in privat auto mileage and gasoline, which includes $21,535 in rembursements for his plane.
Polls have been up and down in this race, but most show Westrom and Peterson within a few points of each other. Fifty percent of voters surveyed by KSTP Oct. 3 - Oct. 6 said they supported Peterson and 41 percent said they supported Westrom with 10 percent still undecided. Then a GOP poll out last week put Westrom ahead 44-43, with 13 percent still undecided.
“This is more evidence that Democrats are worried about keeping 12-term incumbent Collin Peterson’s seat,” said Caitlin Carroll, Westrom spokeswoman in an e-mailed statement. “The facts are Congressman Peterson no longer represents western Minnesota’s values and has lost touch with this district.”
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tyler Houlton said: “I imagine Democrats in the state legislature will be pretty furious with DFL Chairman Martin for condemning his own party’s use of per diems that help them better represent their constituents."
Peterson’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
For months, Star Tribune staff has traipsed along with Minnesota's statewide candidates as they campaigned.
Here's what they found of the men who will vie in November's election:
For Minnesota governor
Democrat Mark Dayton
An A-list player in state politics for more than three decades, Dayton, 67, has had a colorful career full of highs and lows, in both public and private. On Election Day he will learn if Minnesotans are willing to give him four more years in charge of the state — or are ready to send him into retirement. -- Patrick Condon
Republican Jeff Johnson
A Hennepin County commissioner who is a former state representative and Tea Party ally, Johnson is now battling to unseat the most powerful Democrat in state office, Gov. Mark Dayton. Johnson says he offers a clear and needed alternative to the policies of a Democratic governor and Democratic Legislature that have joined forces and moved Minnesota too far to the liberal left. -- Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
For the U.S. Senate
Democrat Al Franken
Winning his first term in 2008 by the narrowest margin in modern U.S. Senate history after a brutally combative race, the former satirist has spent five years playing it safe. His standard event is heavy on policy, in front of a crowd that generally loves him, with a humorous punchline to chase. -- Allison Sherry
Republican Mike McFadden
The art of campaigning hasn't’t come easily to McFadden, an investment banker who has never held elective office, and hadn't voted in a primary in 20 years before his own. Yet McFadden beat out a field of experienced politicians for the Republican endorsement, easily won his primary and gained the backing of Independence Party leaders who chose him over their own primary winner.
McFadden says his great asset is that he's not a politician, nor was he bred to be one. He doesn't need this job, but he wants it. -- Abby Simons and Ricardo Lopez
All photos by Glen Stubbe, of the Star Tribune. Click below to see the Star Tribune's photo galleries of the candidates:
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