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Janezich Enters Senate Race
By Amy Radil
December 8, 1999
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State Senator Jerry Janezich today threw his hat into the crowded ring of Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Rod Grams. Janezich represents Chisholm in Northeast Minnesota, and as a longtime member of the DFL legislative delegation and a friend to labor, Janezich has many supporters in his region. As he admits, his challenges include shaping a statewide campaign and fund-raising, where he lags behind some of his opponents.
Jerry Janezich
Age: 49
Born: March 16, 1950
Personal: Married to Pat. Three children.
Resides: Chisholm
Occupation:State Senator, small business owner.
Education:BS, St. Cloud State University
Web Site:

For more information, see MPR's Campaign 2000 section.

STATE SENATOR JERRY JANEZICH'S campaign launch for U.S. Senate brought out an enthusiastic gathering of legislators and party faithful in Duluth. Janezich began his day in his hometown kicking off his campaign at the Chisholm Junior High School with an endorsement by the Steelworkers Union. In Duluth, Congressman Jim Oberstar, another Chisholm native, sang Janezich's praises, and could barely contain his enthusiasm at the idea of another member of Congress coming from Chisholm.
Oberstar: He has taken stands in his service in the state legislature that, to be sure, benefitted the district where he serves, the little town of Chisholm and surrounding municipalities.
Janezich comes across as soft-spoken and diffident, unlike some of his more flamboyant colleagues on the Iron Range. State Representative Tom Bakk calls Janezich the peacemaker of the group, in the Legislature and on the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.
Bakk: Being the labor leader that I am, Jerry is probably a little better at consensus building than I am, I tend to be more of a bully from time to time than Jerry is. I think that's a quality that's going to be important in this race and I think that's what the people of Minnesota want.
Several local legislators endorsed Janezich, citing his legislative skill, particularly in channeling money and projects to their various districts. But in his speech Janezich moved away from their parochial tone, pledging to create a statewide agenda around issues such as education and housing.
Janezich: We will not be a regional candidate and I think we're sneaking up on some people. And we have a lot of work left to do. For sure we're gonna have to raise money, we're gonna wear out shoes because that's the way we do this, and I believe we're gonna get that endorsement, then I believe we're gonna win. I'm ready. I'm ready.
As evidence of his statewide reach, Janezich introduced two Ramsey County Commissioners who've joined his campaign, board chair Rafael Ortega and board member Victoria Reinhardt, who is co-chairing the Janezich campaign. She says Janezich got her attention through his work funding early childhood development at the Legislature.
Reinhardt: I was impressed by his sincerity, the fact that he's genuine, and I think he understands people and really listens to people and I called him up and said, I want to be part of your campaign.
Janezich says there's no question he'll abide by the DFL endorsement, a commitment not all the candidates have made. As he puts it, his family would wring his neck if he didn't. University of Minnesota Duluth professor Craig Grau says it's also good strategy.
Grau: I think he'll try to do the Paul Wellstone thing which is to use the endorsement process as a building block and I think without that he'd have a hard time expanding his base of support around the state.
Grau says despite population loss, northeast Minnesota can still carry disproportionate weight in the primary election. The district did break with the DFL to support Republican Senator Rod Grams in 1994, who was running against a DFLer from the Twin Cities, but in this case Janezich would have the local advantage. The state Republican Party says Grams will spend plenty of time campaigning in the district after the primary. Until then, Republican Party Executive Director Tony Sutton says each new Democratic candidate will make the primary race that much nastier, despite pleas from some Democrats to keep the campaign friendly.
Sutton: If the Democrats took a pledge not to attack each other, Jerry Janezich doesn't have a chance. The guy that would win would be Michael Ciresi because he has all the money and he'll spend it on television in the Twin Cities, which is unfortunate because Minnesota deserves to have a grassroots-based system.
Sutton predicts the candidates will have to attack each other in order to define themselves for voters. Janezich, who defines himself as the labor candidate, says he'll have his work cut out for him in the next several weeks. With about $50,000 in the bank so far, he needs to raise money, and he says he'll be targeting the AFL-CIO endorsement, which will likely be decided January 20th.