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Independence Party Endorses Gibson for Senate
By Amy Radil
June 26, 2000
Part of's Campaign 2000 coverage
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Jim Gibson joins a sizeable group of challengers to Republican incumbent Senator Rod Grams. Gibson won his party's endorsement with ease, but he faces a daunting race. The Edina-based software developer faces at least two competitors in his party primary, and party officials are hinting others may still enter the race.

Jim Gibson's Speech
Listen to Independence Party endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Jim Gibson's speech delivered at the party's convention.
ABOUT 200 DELEGATES attended the Independence Party's first major gathering since the group broke away from the national Reform Party headed by Ross Perot. The delegates' brand of cantankerous, enthusiastic citizenship was on full display at the state convention, and they warmly welcomed the person who led them out of the national party, Governor Jesse Ventura. For his part, Ventura appeared relaxed and upbeat as he delivered a wide-ranging speech rallying party members for the fall campaign. He reassured members they did the right thing in focusing on state rather than national politics, and said the eyes of the country will be on them this fall.

"They are looking at Minnesota to see what a third-party movement is about," he said. "We had some drastic decisions to make this year, some very critical decisions to make this year, but I think we made the right ones, the right ones being, let's look out for our own backyard."

While state legislative candidates appeared at the convention, the party's main attention was on endorsing a candidate for U.S. Senate. But Ventura backed off of his early support for Jim Gibson, saying that in light of other candidates emerging, he will wait until after the primary to get behind whomever wins.

"My plan is very simple right now. I want the party to run its course to the primary, as many people who want to be part and want to run, I'm not going to interfere," the governor said.

Ventura said he's happy the Independence Party will hold a September primary, saying the number of candidates seeking to get involved is a sign of the party's growth and inclusivity. In addition to Gibson, environmental activist Leslie Davis sought the party's endorsement. He appeared to touch a chord with the audience as he described his crusades against polluters and government officials. In his speech Davis also tried to mend fences with Ventura, whom he has targeted with lawsuits and recall petitions in the past.

"I know I'm coming into a party where I've had some disputes and disagreements with some of the leadership or the heads of the party, but those wounds have been healed," Davis said. "Sometimes if you break a bone or you break a relationship and you fix it up, it heals stronger than it was before."

"You know it isn't just about money sometimes, it's about the issues and it's about whether the candidate can connect with the voters. I just trust the process."

- Jim Gibson, Independence Party endorsed U.S. Senate Candidate
And finally, former party vice chair Buford Johnson said he'll run in the primary, although he did not seek the party's endorsement. Jim Gibson, who worked closely with party members during his campaign over the past year, won the endorsement on the first ballot with 141 votes. Davis received 35 votes and Johnson 18. Gibson said he'll campaign on solving long-term issues, such as paying off the national debt and privatizing social security. So far he's raised $20,000 and invested $100,000 of his own.

Gibson said he's running on a much smaller budget than Grams or several DFL candidates, but said he thinks the big-budget campaigns could result in a public backlash.

"You know it isn't just about money sometimes, it's about the issues and it's about whether the candidate can connect with the voters," said Gibson. "I just trust the process. I know we're not going to have the money of the other candidates but on the other hand I don't believe people... you know, people can see how campaigns are being fought."

Heading into the primary campaign, Gibson said he will continue travelling the state and speaking to voters. Johnson and Davis also plan to beef up their campaign organizations. But Independence Party chair Rick McCluhan said the field of contestants in this year's Senate race may still be incomplete.

"Here comes Davis and Johnson and there may actually be some more people that would come in by the time filings would close," according to McCluhan. "So I think that primary's very open, it's very fluid, I think what Jim Gibson has is the support of the party, he's our endorsed candidate and that's where our support goes. As you know the disadvantage to that I guess is the fact that we don't have a very wealthy party."

And the biggest disadvantage to Gibson may be that the party's biggest name is sitting on the sidelines until after the primary. Much of the Independence Party's future will be riding on the candidate who emerges from the September primary; that candidate must receive at least five percent of the vote in November, or the party will lose its major-party status and with it the public campaign funding that brought it this far.