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DFL Rift Overshadows Congressional Race
By William Wilcoxen
September 13, 2000
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Betty McCollum, Linda Runbeck, and Tom Foley have advanced to the November general election in the race to succeed retiring Fourth District Congressman Bruce Vento. DFL endorsee McCollum won a hotly contested primary last night. But a couple of her party rivals are upset about negative campaigning in the primary and are not sure they'll work for McCollum. Meanwhile, Republican and Independence Party candidates see the DFL rift as a chance to take a seat the Democrats have held for 52 years.

      INDEPENDENCE Totals Pct 
TOM FOLEY  750 62.87
PAM ELLISON  434 37.13
BETTY MCCOLLUM  35875 49.30
STEVEN NOVAK  16327 22.72
CHRIS COLEMAN  13532 19.93
      REPUBLICAN Totals Pct 
LINDA RUNBECK  10709 85.92

Source: Minnesota Secretary of State
BETTY MCCOLLUM'S PRIMARY NIGHT victory party was a distinctly DFL event. Party regulars and elected officials from the Saint Paul area were on hand to support their endorsed Congressional candidate and cheer the priorities of her campaign.

"Our families want a clean environment and safe schools," McCollum told the crowd. "Our families deserve prescription drug coverage and privacy, confidential, for their records. And our families need access to affordable health care and quality education. These are the core values of a Democrat." ( Listen to MPR interview)

The four Democrats who ran in the primary showed many similarities on the issues, but a difference in tactics emerged in the last week of the campaign. McCollum, a state representative from North Saint Paul, mailed brochures critical of two of her opponents, State Senator Steve Novak and Saint Paul City Council member Chris Coleman. The materials suggested Novak and Coleman are not strong in their support of education, gun control, or prescription drug coverage for the elderly.

Novak and Coleman say McCollum distorted their voting records and violated an agreement to refrain from negative campaigning during the primary. As results of McCollum's primary win were tabulated, Coleman said he would not tell his followers who to support in November.

Novak says the DFL organization took part in the negative campaigning.

"I think they panicked and they felt an overriding need to make sure their endorsed candidate won. So they poured their coals to it in terms of negative campaigning, spent an enormous amount of money, the vast majority of which was raised outside the state of Minnesota by people who didn't even know the candidate they were supporting, in this case McCollum. And, frankly, the money was misused because it was used to tear down and distort the positions of good Democrats," Novak said.

Novak calls it a distinct possibility that some of his followers will throw their support elsewhere, rather than back McCollum's congressional campaign, particularly since a former Democrat, Tom Foley, is the Independence Party candidate.

DFL Party Chair Mike Erlandson thinks primary-night bitterness will have faded by November.

"The money was misused because it was used to tear down and distort the positions of good Democrats."

- Steve Novak
"I don't think ultimately that Steve or Chris' supporters are going to vote for Tom or any other candidate when it comes time for election day," Erlandson said.

But Foley, the former Ramsey County Attorney who chaired Bill Clinton's Minnesota campaign, stands ready to welcome any Democrats - or Republicans - disenchanted by the traditional parties, which Foley says are controlled by activists who are extremist rather than centrist in their views.

The prospect of McCollum and Foley splitting the DFL vote inspires Linda Runbeck, the state senator who faced only token opposition in the Republican primary. The fourth district has been solid in its support for Democrats since Eugene McCarthy captured the seat in 1948, but these days suburban residents outnumber Saint Paulites in the district.

Runbeck says voters want tax relief to help sustain the strong economy, not new ways to spend a surplus, and she thinks of the Democrats, McCollum provides the strongest contrast with her own views.

"I personally want to see government that is going to provide more options, more empowerment to families, to individuals, to communities, to local decision makers. I see so much of what is happening on the Democratic side driving decisions to Washington," Runbeck said.

Runbeck says her campaign's polling shows her winning the three-way race with McCollum and Foley.