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McCollum Gets Early Boost in Fourth District Race
by Amy Radil
May 8, 2000
Part of MPR's Campaign 2000 coverage
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Betty McCollum
Home: North St. Paul
Born: July 1954
Personal: Married (Douglas), two children.
Education: B.S., education, College of St. Catherine
Political career: Elected to the House in 1992. Committees: Environmental and Natural Resources Finance; Environmental and Natural Resources Policy; Health and Human Services Policy; Rules and Legislative Administration.
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State Representative Betty McCollum of North St. Paul won the endorsement last weekend for the Fourth Congressional District race against Republican State Senator Linda Runbeck. But the DFL campaign to replace retiring Congressman Bruce Vento is just beginning. Three other DFLers are considering running against McCollum in a September primary. McCollum will try to persuade the other candidates to drop their bids against her in the name of party unity. But even if she were to succeed, the Fourth District race is shaping up to be a tough, expensive fight.

SOME DELEGATES TO THE DFLFourth Congressional District Convention in North St. Paul wore badges naming no specific candidate, but simply begging their fellow delegates to "endorse." The endorsee, DFL State Representative Betty McCollum of North St. Paul, told delegates they can leave feeling happy that their party's endorsement process works.

"We're leaving here unified," McCollum declared. "So Linda, get ready to run, Runbeck because I'm coming after you!"

But the assembled crowd knew it won't be that simple.The DFL candidate will face Republican State Senator Linda Runbeck of Circle Pines in this fall's congressional race. But DFLers will likely challenge each other first for the party nomination in the September primary.

State Senator Steve Novak of New Brighton, St. Paul City Council member Chris Coleman and businesswoman Cathie Hartnett are all considering challenging McCollum for the party nomination. McCollum says she'll try to persuade them to support her candidacy, but she's not afraid to take them on if she has to. She calls her district a microcosm of the fourth district, with its urban and suburban neighborhoods, and says she'll take no part of the district for granted. McCollum describes herself as a determined and forthright legislator interested in environmental health and labor issues. "I've worked very hard on many of the environmental issues - feedlots, public lands protection, I've been involved in election issues, in fact I'm carrying a campaign finance reform bill right now I couldn't get heard. I want to get to the table in Washington to work on campaign finance reform."

Her interest in campaign finance reform has had personal consequences. She declined to accept any PAC or lobbying money during the legislative session, and had raised just over $5,000 at the end of March, the least of any fourth-district candidate. McCollum says that has to change soon. "After the end of the session, my fundraising strategy will change. I made a commitment to not take PAC or lobbyist money during session, but the groups that endorsed me, I will after session look forward to sitting down and putting together an aggressive financial plan."

Linda Runbeck
Home: Circle Pines
Born: June 11, 1946
Personal: Married (Richard), one child
Occupation: Former small business owner and advertising executive
Political career: Elected to the House in 1990. Elected to the Senate 1992; re-elected in 1996. Committees: Commerce; Economic Development Budget Division; Governmental Operations & Veterans; Governmental Operations Budget Division; Jobs, Energy & Community Development; Taxes.
Republican candidate Linda Runbeck has raised about $65,000, in a race ultimately predicted to cost up to $1 million. The campaign is expected to be hard-fought because Republican-leaning suburban voters now equal the number of city residents in the longtime-DFL district. And Runbeck faces no opponents for the Republican nomination, while McCollum may still be competing with other DFLers through September.

DFL state party chair Mike Erlandson says it's a regrettable challenge. "There's no question there's too much money in politics today and Betty's going to have to raise a heck of a lot of money," says Erlandson. "It would certainly be my hope that we can spend all the money we raise as DFLers to beat a Republican come November 7, and we don't have to spend too much money against each other.">

For his part, fifth-term State Senator Steve Novak maintains he's the most-electable candidate against a Republican, with or without the DFL party behind him. He points to the fact that he's raised about $130,000 so far and to his endorsements from the Teamsters and building trades.

Novak says despite the interest of many delegates in electing a woman to Minnesota's congressional delegation, he thinks he could best insure that Vento's seat will stay in DFL hands. "When I tell people to keep their eye on the prize that's what I mean, and I have to make that judgment about my DFL competitors and feel strongly that if it isn't me that whoever else it is can equally do that job. I have no been convinced of that up until this point in time so I might be willing to listen to them and see if they can make that case to me."

He says he'll decide by the end of the month whether to pursue the race. In order to run, Novak would have to relinquish his chairmanship of the Senate Jobs, Energy and Community Development Committee. Chris Coleman will decide whether or not to run this week. Labor leader Mary Rosenthal, state representative Mary Jo McGuire, Hennepin County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, and South St. Paul Mayor Kathleen Gaylord all sought the DFL endorsement, but withdrew after McCollum took the lead.