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No Time to Lose
By Michael Khoo
September 13, 2000
Part of MPR's Campaign 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

The surviving candidates for U.S. Senate wasted no time hitting the campaign trail after the primary election significantly narrowed the field. Republican incumbent Rod Grams, DFLer Mark Dayton, and Independence Party candidate James Gibsonare all promising clean campaigns focused on the issues. But the rhetoric is already heating up.


Ron Eibensteiner, chairman of the Republican Party, handicaps the Senate race. (Listen ).

Mark Dayton conducted a news conference on September 13th, the day after the primary, to discuss the upcoming campaign. (Listen)

David Swan, the Constitution Party candidate for the U.S. Senate seat says given $1,000, Democrats would spend all of it and Republicans would spend almost all of it. (Listen)

DAYTON HANDILY WON the DFL nomination, coming in almost 20 percentage points over his closest rival. Aside from a few last-minute barbs, the Democratic primary was relatively friendly and issue-oriented. Dayton attributes his first-place finish to, among other things, his high name recognition and previous bids for state-wide office.

"That was a base of earned support through two decades of government service, public service to Minnesota that gave me a starting point ahead of the others. the issues that I was able to identify and I think the health care helpline and the R-X Express were really very very important in not only identifying me with those issues but demonstrating here's somebody who wants to do something about them," Dayton said.

But having a household name doesn't provide the same advantage in the general election where Dayton faces a familiar incumbent. And Republicans are already promising to turn Dayton's signature health care issues against him. Before the curtain fell on primary night, Grams was already painting Dayton's call for immediate, universal health care as big government intrusion and liberal politics-as-usual.

Dayton characterized his opponent's opening salvo as "juvenile."

"If he thinks that calling me "Mark Liberal" enhances his public standing as a United States Senator, I certainly welcome his continuing to do so. I don't think that's the caliber of campaign that Minnesotans deserve and have a right to expect," Dayton said.

Dayton returned fire over Grams' proposal for privatizing Social Security, saying it could jeopardize retirement security for senior citizens. Grams says the charge is little more than a scare tactic and - like his DFL challenger - pledged to run an above-board, issues-focused campaign.

"I don't want to get into name-calling, I was just trying to probably put him on the political scale. And I just thought that when you take a look at the Mark on the issues and the positions that he's taken that is a very liberal position," said Grams.

Also advancing into the general election is Independence Party candidate James Gibson. Gibson says Grams and Dayton represent ideological extremes. He says he'll take a page from the IP's senior elected official - Gov. Jesse Ventura - and chart a course up the middle.

Ventura has pledged to stump for Gibson and other IP candidates now that the primaries are over, and Gibson's clearly hoping the governor's star power will rub off on him. But Gibson, who advocates paying down the national debt and privatizing Social Security, acknowledges his first priority is fundraising.

"We know there's going to be a record spending level this year. The prior record was in 1982 when Dayton ran, so we're positive this'll be a spending record. And we know Rod Grams will do all he can to compete on the dollars. So we're going to go to the average Minnesotan and just suggest if only one-third of the people who voted for the governor send us $5, we'll have all we need to run this election," he said.

Gibson says if he can attract enough attention through state-wide debates, he believes he can run his campaign on only half a million dollars. Gibson says he's in the race to win, but failing that, he needs at least five percent of the vote to retain major party status for the Independence Party.

Craig Grau is a political science professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He says capturing more than five percent is not a foregone conclusion for Gibson, and may depend on the behavior of the two other major campaigns.

"If the race really got a lot of negative attacks back and forth between Dayton and Grams, people might go to Gibson for a protest vote. But if it looks like a very close race and every votes going to make a difference, people might decided to participate where the action is," Grau says.

If the first day of the general election is any measure, Grams and Dayton may be playing directly to Gibson's hands.

Michael Khoo covers politics for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach him at