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Penny Opts Out
by Mike Mulcahy
February 28, 2000
Part of MPR's Campaign 2000 coverage
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

Just one day before he was scheduled to announce his candidacy, former DFL congressman Tim Penny did an about face and said he will not run for U.S. Senate. Penny cited personal reasons for his decision, and the other DFL candidates hoping to run against incumbent Republican Rod Grams rushed to try to convince his supporters to join their camps.

THERE WERE INDICATIONS Tim Penny may have been having second thoughts, but his announcement still caught both supporters and opponents off guard. The former First District representative filed official notice with the federal government weeks ago that he was planning a run, and in recent weeks has been raising money and courting delegates. But he put off a formal announcement more than once, and says he realized over the weekend that spending time with his family was more important than being in the Senate.
Penny says his decision had nothing to do with recent criticism from DFL candidates Michael Ciresi and David Lillehaug that his voting record was nearly as conservative as Rod Grams'.
Penny: I really thought until just a few days ago that I had psyched up for this in every way and I was ready to move. And yet I got that knot in my stomach that told me something wasn't quite right and so here we are.
Penny says his decision had nothing to do with recent criticism from DFL candidates Michael Ciresi and David Lillehaug that his voting record was nearly as conservative as Rod Grams'. He says he's also convinced that he could have won had he entered the race.
Penny: I think it was very much do-able to construct a statewide campaign that would have carried the day in November. That was a big piece of why it surprised me that when it came time to announce and get this campaign underway, that I couldn't do it.
Penny had served as an top advisor to Jesse Ventura during the governor's transition, and Ventura tried to convince Penny to run as a third-party candidate. While some may still try to do that, the governor seems to be taking Penny's decision at face value.
Ventura: As far as in the public sector go it's a huge loss because, you know, Tim Penny would do an outstanding job, but certainly I respect his decision; and it's a decision that everyone has to make as far as their personal life goes. You know personal and family life always come first in my opinion.
The other DFL candidates scrambled to say nice things about Penny, agreeing he would have been a formidable opponent, and asking his supporters to consider joining them.

State Senator Steve Kelley says Penny's conservative views on abortion, the federal budget and medicare would have made it tough for him to win the DFL endorsement. Kelly says Penny would have had to run in the primary against Michael Ciresi and the endorsed candidate. Without Penny in the race, Kelley says the endorsement is even more important.
Kelley: I think there's a real opportunity for the Democrats to come together in June and build the resources to run a really effective campaign against Senator Grams in the fall and not be divided through the summer until the September primary.
Candidate Steve Miles agrees with Kelley that the endorsement becomes even more important. Ciresi says Penny's decision won't have much of an impact on his decision to run in the primary, but he says Penny supporters shouldn't think he was attacking Penny.
Ciresi: I didn't put out literature critical, I put out literature that stated what his votes were. If he takes that as critical or his supporters do, so be it. I think that's part of the stimulating debate that Tim and I would have had.
Ciresi says he now expects the primary campaign to be a two-person race with the endorsed DFL candidate, even though a spokesman for Rebecca Yanisch says she hasn't decided yet whether she'll abide by the endorsement. The sixth candidate in the race, State Senator Jerry Janezich says he will abide by the endorsement.

Rod Grams supporters say Penny dropped out because he realized what a strong candidate Grams is. Grams campaign chairman, Rick Evans, says Grams' supporters had a good day.
Evans: Obviously before Tim dropped out we weren't acknowledging it publicly but certainly Tim was seen as our strongest competition, and when your strongest competition decides to get out of the race, you've got to see that as good news.
Evans says Republicans are confident the DFL will endorse a candidate who is more liberal than most Minnesotans. He says that will play to Grams advantage in November.