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Holiday Puts Spark in Fourth District Race
By Amy Radil
July 5, 2000
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Candidates vying for retiring Democratic Congressman Bruce Vento's seat hit St. Paul's festivals and parades over July Fourth, taking what could be seen as a break from the fundraising that has occupied them in recent weeks. DFL candidates say the race hasn't grabbed voters attention yet, but they hope by meeting and greeting citizens, they can build support in time for the party's primary election September 12.

THE FOURTH DISTRICT CANDIDATES were low-key even as they dashed through small parades and handed out campaign stickers on July Fourth. They may have been taking a cue from a laid-back electorate, which has yet to focus on their race. Behind the scenes, however, candidates have been intent on raising money and building support. The DFL-endorsed candidate, State Representative Betty McCollum, came from behind in recent weeks, raising almost $150,000 since the legislative session ended.

"I was very pleased with the amount that I raised," she said. "I made a commitment to follow the spirit of the Minnesota state law and not go out and seek PAC or lobbyist money while I was seated in session voting on issues".

McCollum, who visited a color-guard ceremony at Marydale Park before hitting no less than three fireworks shows, says she's accepted PAC money this quarter, but hopes to work on campaign finance reform if elected, along with environmental issues. She says she tries to combine fundraising with conversations about the issues.

"I try to make that work for me. The majority of fundraising has been with people within the district and I call them up and speak to them on the phone, I ask them what would they like to see changed in their lives, what would they like to see the government be more involved in or less involved in to make their families more successful. I ask for their vote, then I ask for their money."

McCollum faces two DFL challengers so far, State Senator Steve Novak of New Brighton and St. Paul City Council Member Chris Coleman, with St. Paul businesswoman Cathie Hartnett planning to enter the race next week.

Novak, who handed out Vikings and Gopher football schedules with his campaign slogan at the Taste of Minnesota festival on the Capitol grounds, says he's made three trips to Washington since the end of May; meeting with members of Congress and national labor and environmental groups with Minnesota chapters. He says he's raised $180,000 so far, with an additional $40,000 pledged.

"It's the single biggest difference between running for Congress and running for the state Legislature; the amounts of money that have to be raised for better or for worse are geometrically larger," he said. "But as a candidate who was not endorsed by the political party, to be the leader in fundraising is extremely significant."

St. Paul City Council Member Chris Coleman started a hot-and-humid July Fourth with a four-mile race through the city's St. Anthony Park neighborhood. Then he and his family raced up the road to the suburb of Shoreview to roller-blade in a neighborhood parade. Coleman says it's not hard to bridge the urban and suburban parts of the Fourth District, because people's concerns are pretty much the same.

"A lot of what's going on with people out there is the focus of my life: young families, kids in the public school system, trying to rush around in a mini-van, getting from place to place; people's lives are busy and I think they want security, they want safe neighborhoods and those issue translate whether you're in St. Paul or in a suburban part of the district," he said.

Coleman raised about $70,000 in the last quarter. He says he's working with political advertising guru Bill Hillsman, who's credited for being a big part in getting both Paul Wellstone and Jesse Ventura elected, to develop an ad campaign for direct mail and local newspapers in time for the DFL's September 12 primary.

Republican candidate Linda Runbeck of Circle Pines doesn't face a primary challenger, which allows her to conserve more of the $140,000 she's raised for the general election. Runbeck greeted passers-by from under a canopy in Roseville's Central Park. She says contributions have been spread thin so far by the diverse field of candidates.

"Setting out in April, I thought it'd be much easier to raise money, but I think everyone is having the same difficulty level," Runbeck said. "People are not that excited right now; there's a lot of folks in the field, the Fourth District is an indication that people realize that it is a competitive district and in some degree it's pretty much up for grabs."

The final candidate in the race, the Independence Party's Pam Ellison, will not accept any PAC donations. She says she has about $1,000 on hand so far.