DFL delegates from across the state will gather this weekend to endorse a gubernatorial candidate for the fall elections. Three major candidates have emerged - State Auditor Judi Dutcher, Sen. Becky Lourey, and Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe. This year's convention is attracting increased attention because all three candidate have agree to abide by the decision of delegates.
Becky Lourey is no stranger to the campaign trail. First elected to the House in 1990, she moved up to the Senate in 1996, after defeating an incumbent fellow DFLer in a tightly contested primary fight. Lourey, who runs a small family farm and a consulting business from her northern Minnesotan home in Kerrick, says she's drawn to public office by a strong sense of social justice.
"I've spent my whole life helping people reach their full opportunity, helping them become independent, contributing citizens. And it is so important that everyone have that opportunity. And that's why I'm running for governor," she says.
Lourey is known for being unabashedly liberal. She's raised 12 children - eight adopted - and as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Early Childhood and Family Education has focused her message on that issue. She says providing safe and nurturing environments NOW will pay large dividends later as children grow into productive citizens.
But the message isn't significantly different from that offered by her DFL rivals. Where Lourey says she differs is on her support for the environment.
At a recent Harriet Island fundraiser, Lourey supporters were keenly aware that the Green Party will - for the first time - have major party status in this year's race and is already in the process of selecting a candidate.
Lourey says she's the only DFLer who can attract Green votes and prevent the Ralph Nader-dynamic that many say cost Al Gore the 2000 election. To make her case, Lourey singles out a recent Senate fight to restrict large feedlots.
"We lost. And the majority of the Democrats voted for open-air hog lagoons. Again. So, what are the Greens to do if the majority of Democrats in the Legislature are voting that way?" Lourey asked.
Although there's no official tally of how convention delegates are leaning, both the Dutcher and Moe camps rank Lourey last. Her running mate, former Star Tribune publisher Joel Kramer, says he thinks Lourey is probably polling second to Moe. But regardless, he says, the Lourey campaign is gaining momentum at just the right time. He says most delegates say - deep down - they'd like to vote for Lourey.
"Some of them then add a but. And the but is, 'well, maybe she's too liberal' or 'maybe she's not well enough known or different things.' But you want the candidate who has people saying, 'she's the one that I really want, she's the one I feel a passion for.' And then we can erase all the buts. We can show people that she's a winner; which she is," says Kramer.
Kramer says Lourey's shown she can overcome significant obstacles, having won repeated election as a liberal in a fairly conservative district. If she advances to the general election, she'll face a strong conservative challenger from the Republican side, a progressive candidate from the Greens, and a wildcard in Gov. Jesse Ventura, who hasn't announced his future plans.
Lourey says her advantage is that no one label will stick to her. "I strongly support a woman's right to choose, and I've adopted eight children. I've fought for and have voted for tough labor laws, and I'm the owner of a small business. I'm a small family farmer and a strong environmentalist. I'm a hunter - have awards for hunting - and I voted against the concealed-carry. They can't box me in," she says.
Lourey will make that case to the DFL convention this weekend. But she says if the persuasion doesn't work, she'll step gracefully aside.More from MPR