In the Spotlight

News & Features
Independence Party Could Be Player in Senate Race
By Amy Radil
September 13, 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

Software developer Jim Gibson says as the Independence Party candidate for U.S. Senate, he can chart a centrist path between Republican candidate Rod Grams and the winner of Tuesday's DFL primary, Mark Dayton. Gibson, the Independence Party's endorsed candidate for the Senate, easily beat his opponents to clinch his party's nomination. But Gibson says he faces an uphill challenge, both in raising the money he needs to compete, and in getting equal treatment among Republicans and Democrats.

                 US SENATOR
DAVID SWAN  898 63
      INDEPENDENCE Totals Pct 
FRED H. ASKEW  461 8
MARK DAYTON  179737 41
MIKE CIRESI  97160 22
"DICK" FRANSON  1330 0
OLE SAVIOR  1265 0
      REPUBLICAN Totals Pct 
ROD GRAMS  112635 89
BILL DAHN  13735 11

GIBSON HAS BEEN CAMPAIGNING full-time for the past 18 months, taking a leave from his job as a self-employed software developer. If he hadn't won the Independence Party primary Tuesday, Gibson says he might have gone back to his job and developed software for use in political campaigns, based on his experiences as a candidate.

But Gibson did win his party's nomination with 46% of the vote, beating Leslie Davis with 25%, Buford Johnson with 19% and Fred Askew with 8%. Taking the podium at his campaign party in St. Paul, Gibson said he has good memories of some of the candidates he's met on the campaign trail. But he made it clear he'll be tough on his opponents, DFL department store heir Mark Dayton and Republican incumbent Rod Grams, and the money each brings to the race.

"Our biggest challenge will be to raise the money," Gibson acknowledges. "We know this will be the spending record of any race in Minnesota ever. The prior record was in 1982 when Mark Dayton ran. We're going to make an issue out of that."

Gibson appeared calm and self-assured in his acceptance speech, showing some changes in a political newcomer who, at his party's endorsing convention in June, still marvelled jokingly about the sight of his own name on campaign signs.

He says debates and voter forums will be important opportunities for him to discuss his views. Gibson has based his campaign on the theme of stewardship, emphasizing the importance of paying down the national debt. He says most organizations now accept the Independence Party as a legitimate third party, but he still faces some struggles for access to debates.

"We're guaranteed to be in the big debates, the League of Women Voters' debates. We have an issue right now with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce which we're working on. The threshold they set was initially 15 percent, they reduced it to 10 percent in the polls. First of all we don't trust whatever polls would be out but there aren't any polls that would be here in time. So we have an issue with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce right now."

Gibson says Gov. Jesse Ventura, who often emphasizes the need for all major parties to be included in national and state political debates, may help his campaign make its case to the Chamber. In general, Gibson hopes for support from Ventura, who indicated he would campaign for his party's ticket once the primary election was finished.

Gibson's campaign manager, Neal Levine, says the campaign will develop up to 10 or 15 humorous, low-budget ads, like one in which Gibson approached people in downtown Minneapolis searching for someone who had heard of him. Levine says the ads will take a light approach to pointing out the differences between Gibson and his more experienced rivals.

"We'll just keep coming out, just keep having innovative, funny, offbeat ads," says Levine. "We expect Dayton and Grams to get pretty negative - they already have - so I would expect that we would be the 'clean choice' option."

Gibson says his opponents in the Independence Party ran good races, and he hopes to bring former party official Buford Johnson on board his campaign. Leslie Davis, a party newcomer who declared his candidacy in June, came in second behind Gibson and says his votes came from people who know of his work as an environmental activist. He says his biggest disappointment is the low number of people voting in the party primary.

"Only 5,000 people voted in the Independence Party. That's an indication to me that the leadership did a lousy job of getting the word out and mobilizing the party itself," said Davis.

The approximately 5,500 votes cast in the primary came in far below party officials' estimates of 10,000 to 15,000. Gibson says his task will be to raise the party's profile as well as to promote his candidacy. He must receive at least five percent of the statewide vote in November in order for the Independence Party to retain its major-party status, as task Gibson says he's confident he can accomplish.