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Campaigning at the Fairgrounds
By Michael Khoo
August 25, 2000
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If Minnesota elections have an unofficial starting gun, the State Fair is it. And with a highly-contested DFL Senate primary just over the horizon, this year's candidates are preparing for a mad sprint to the finish line.

Senate candidate Mike Ciresi campaigns at the Minnesota State Fair. For comprehensive coverage of this fall's election, with information on candidates and issues, visit MPR's Campaign 2000 special section.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
IT'S THE GREAT MINNESOTA GET-TOGETHER and with 1.5 million visitors expected to criss-cross the State Fair grounds between now and Labor Day, all of the major candidates for U.S. Senate have set up shop and are ready to shake hands. Fair-goer Michael Hansen of Bloomington says politicians snub the State Fair at their own risk.

"A good fourth of the state is here, maybe a third. And you have to meet the people and this is where the people are," Hansen said.

Among the four prominent DFLers competing in the September primary, former state auditor Mark Dayton appears to be stepping ahead of the pack. But he worries that his location at the fair might be a bad omen.

"We have a booth just, symbolically, I guess, right across from the haunted house. And more problematically for me, right across from the best chocolate malts in the state of Minnesota - the Dairy Emporium there. But the good thing about having a booth, then, is that people who want to see me or talk with me can do so and others who want to pass me by. And it's not interfering with people having a good time which is what most people are here to do," Dayton said.

Dayton says he's heartened by poll results showing him with a slight edge over his primary opponents, but he says he won't take anything for granted. Nearly a quarter of DFL voters who responded to the Minnesota Public Radio-St. Paul Pioneer Press-KARE-11 poll said they're still undecided. And candidate Mike Ciresi says many are just now turning their attention to the upcoming ballot.

"You see that building almost day by day now. No matter where I go, people are stopping me, talking about the issues. But that's great. I mean, we're having a great time," Ciresi said.

Also stumping for votes was Twin Cities development executive and DFL contender Rebecca Yanisch. Yanisch says she considers her State Fair booth an integral part of her campaign, but she says she's counting on a higher medium in the final weeks of the primary.

"We're back on television again this week and I'm very confident, again, if I can reach the voters, get them my message that the support will be there for September 12," she said.

Absent from opening day was state senator Jerry Janezich, the DFL's endorsed candidate. But his campaign manager says Janezich will be there every day from the second day until the end. Gov. Jesse Ventura says he knew he would win the 1998 election based on his reception at the Fair, where he attracted a crowd at every stop. And fellow Independence Party member James Gibson is likewise courting votes for his Senate bid.

"You know, we're certainly in a different position than the governor. The governor had huge name recognition before he ever entered the race. I had no name recognition whatsoever. But the State Fair will help remarkably in that goal," Gibson said.

Gibson faces environmental activist Leslie Davis and former party official Buford Johnson in the Independence primary. And finally, the man all of the other candidates hope to unseat - incumbent Republican Rod Grams - has also waded into the State Fair crowd. But with the final slate of opponents as yet unidentified, Grams says he hasn't begun his campaign in earnest.

"You know, just to go out here, shake hands, answer questions, meet people, keep a big smile on your face. You know people are out here to have a lot of fun as well. And so, no strategy, it's just to be here and try to be a good host if they want to stop into our booth and provide any information I can," Grams said.

Grams says he won't reveal his campaign plans yet but once the State Fair ends and the primaries narrow the field, he'll come out with "guns a-blazing."