I’ve lost track of how many people are running for mayor of Minneapolis, and I’ve also lost my program that diagrams the six levels of separation from current Mayor R.T. Rybak and the scrum of DFLers fighting to replace him.

So all I wanted to know Tuesday was who had the freshest eyes.

Tuesday’s paper featured a story about the supposed leaders in the race to run the city, Mark Andrew and Betsy Hodges. In that story, Andrew said he wanted to bring “fresh eyes” to the job.

I thought I’d heard that phrase before. Oh, yeah, Cam Winton, the only Republican in the race, was giving me the “fresh eyes” spiel just last week over breakfast at Peter’s Grill.

So I e-mailed Winton, asking for proof that his eyes were indeed like newly picked blueberries.

Winton responded: “Regarding my eyes, I dab mine with moist towelettes hourly to ensure freshness.”

He also pointed out that Andrew’s 16 years in politics makes his claim of being the new guy “laughable.”

Winton has the chore, and luxury, of being a non-DFLer in the mayoral race. He’s running as an independent, having once supported Barack Obama and then Mitt Romney for president. But he considers himself a Republican.

It’s a chore because Minneapolis is a solidly liberal town. It’s a luxury because he doesn’t have to parrot a party line or think about future party entanglements, and can take positions that stand out compared with the rest of the field.

Because the race has no endorsed candidates and because of ranked choice voting, in which voters pick their top three candidates, Winton has the best outside shot in the November election at being the first non-DFL mayor since independent Charles Stenvig in 1976.

So as the DFLers all try to hop on the push for streetcars, Winton criticizes the expenditure as wasteful, and instead touts enhanced bus routes and even painting some buses to entice new riders (which critics say doesn’t expand ridership).

While everyone else lauds the city’s sacrosanct bike lane system, Winton says enough already. He stands in potholes to drive home the notion that the city’s infrastructure is crumbling (while city officials point out it’s actually a good year for potholes) and promises to cut spending by merging departments (which some see as penny-wise and pound-foolish).

And he’s sent several letters to officials asking questions about “fuzzy” funding for proposed development around the new Vikings stadium.

Winton, 34, lives in the far corner of south Minneapolis, and says he’s running partly because he can look down the street to Edina and see how much better the city runs.

“To me, the next level is a city that works for everyone, with paved and plowed streets and fair taxes,” Winton said.”There is no Democrat or Republican way to pave a road.”

The Pennsylvania native likes to admit he won’t win a race of “who got here first,” but said he’s fallen for the city hard.

But can he be a contender?

“Assume Andrew does not win on the first round of voting,” said Hamline’s David Schultz.

“So long as Winton is in the top three and he is close, he has a chance on a second or third round of balloting. I doubt he can overcome a double-digit deficit but he could win. Such a victory might help the city in terms of party competition and give state GOP legislators a reason to care about the city.”

Winton once worked on a mayoral campaign for Sam Katz, a Republican who narrowly lost to a Democrat in Philadelphia in 1999. He said he knows he could work with a DFL-dominated City Council because he lives with his wife, Emily, a DFL delegate.

“I love it here,” Winton said. “It should be the most livable community in the country, but we’re not there yet.”

During our meeting, he bristled at being called “an ideological outlier,” saying, “I’m not an ideologue.”

Winton has campaigned while keeping his day job at an alternative energy company that services wind turbines. The company that brought him here, Outland Energy Services, has since been sold to Duke Energy Corp.

Winton said all 120 employees profited from the sale, but as an executive he would have to stay on two years to collect his profits. That makes his run for mayor a bit counterintuitive.

You can argue with Winton’s vision of the city, and whether his eyes are “fresher” than anyone else’s. But there is no question Winton is working as hard as anyone.

He’s on a flexible schedule with his job, but seems almost defiant that he will quickly return to it.

“Oh, I will be the next mayor of Minneapolis,” he said confidently.