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Grams Re-election Effort Underway
By Michael Khoo
June 8, 1999
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Republican Senator Rod Grams isn't up for re-election until fall 2000, but his campaign is now underway. Grams attended a dinner in Minneapolis to kick-off the fund-raising this week. And already, several prominent DFLers have lined-up for the chance to challenge him.

SENATOR GRAMS TOLD THE ROUGHLY 700 SUPPORTERS who attended last night's dinner that he won his seat in 1994 by making the right promises. He said he intended to win re-election in 2000 by keeping the right promises. That, he said, meant giving first consideration to Minnesota's best interests.

Rod Grams

"I've never been afraid to take on the leadership of the Senate and the Republican Party itself when their priorities conflict with Minnesota priorities," Grams said. "It's not about sticking to somebody else's rigid ideology, whatever the cost. It's about being what you might call sometimes a bi-partisan independent - someone who can get beyond the labels and the politics to serve the people who elected me to the Senate."

Grams has the usual advantages of an incumbent, though he doesn't take the upcoming challenge lightly. Many DFLers consider him vulnerable and are eager for a chance to unseat him. But Grams says they may be underestimating his resolve. "We know we're going to have a tough race," he acknowledges. "We know that the Democrats are going to put up a candidate that's going to work hard as well. We just want to be prepared. We want to stick to the issues; and we're going to do the best job we can. But saying that I'm vulnerable may be stretching it a little bit, because nobody's going to outwork us in the year 2000 to keep this thing."

Three DFLers, Second District Congressman David Minge, former U.S. Attornery David Lillehaug, and Minneapolis physician and ethics professor Steven Miles, are actively seeking the party's nomination and the opportunity to face Grams next year. And there is speculation other contenders will join the race, including, perhaps, Roger Moe, majority leader in the State Senate. Mike Erlandson , chair of the state DFL, says it's too early to predict who the party will ultimately choose to oppose Grams. But he says whoever it is will need to focus on what he calls Grams's "absence" on many Minnesota issues.

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"You haven't seen a lot of Senator Rod Grams working for the people of Minnesota, whether that's helping with local projects in the state or taking big stands," Erlandson says. "He seems to be more concerned about whether Pennslyvania Avenue is open in Washington, D.C., behind the White House, than whether there's sufficient funds for light-rail transit in Minnesota."

Reform Party officials say they continue to benefit from momentum created by Ventura's victory last November. Diane Goldman, chair of the state party, says no candidate has emerged yet to carry the Reform banner in the U.S. Senate election, although she guarantees a competitive three-way race. Goldman says the key to Ventura's victory was capturing the middle ground between his two opponents. She says a successful Senate candidate will need to follow the same strategy, with some modification.

"This is a federal race and there are different issues that will strike a chord with the voter in this particular election," Goldman says. "A U.S. Senate candidate does not have the state campaign money available to them. Fundraising strategies are obviously going to take a different route as well."

Goldman says it will be some time before a viable Reform candidate is identified and the fund-raising can begin. In the meantime, Grams is wasting no time. Last night's event alone took in $70,000.