Vice President Dick Cheney has helped 2nd District Congressman Mark Kennedy bring in almost $250,000 for his re-election bid. Cheney spoke at a Minneapolis fundraiser, in support of Kennedy, who will run for re-election in a newly constituted and more suburban 6th District. But the event was marked by Democratic complaints that Kennedy should have been in Washington where the House was considering efforts to save the Crusader artillery program, a program that employs 800 Minnesotans.
Cheney spoke briefly to roughly 400 Republican activists who each paid $500 a plate to attend the fundraiser. The vice president listed the accomplishments of the Bush administration, including tax cuts enacted last year and the vigorous campaign against terrorism. And Cheney says Congressman Kennedy has been an important ally.
"He's an independent thinker. And that's good; he represents an indepedent-minded part of the country. On the Agriculture Committee, he's obviously been a skilled advocate for agriculture here across Minnesota. He does his homework. He never forgets who sent him to Washington. And the president and I count on him," Cheney said.
It's not clear who Kennedy will face on the November ballot. Political boundaries were redrawn this year to reflect shifts in state population, and Kennedy was paired with incumbent DFLer Bill Luther in a new 6th District.
But Luther has said he's considering slipping south into a new 2nd District, or perhaps retiring altogether. In any event, Kennedy says the campaign cash will be crucial to building support in his new seat, where many voters are unfamiliar with him.
"I do have a number of new constituents and a number of them are more suburban than I've been used to in the past. And to reach out and make sure that my record of achievement is understood, you need to have the resources to get that message out," he said.
But the fundraising event raised eyebrows among Democrats. State DFL Chair Mike Erlandson notes the House was voting defense authorization language that would preserve almost $500 million for the Crusader artillery system. The weapons program employs 800 Minnesotans at the United Defense facility in Fridley. The Bush administration has recommended eliminating the program.
Erlandson says it's ironic for Kennedy to seek re-election support when - by doing so - he's evading his responsibilities.
"Mr. Kennedy could have just as well stayed in Washington, D.C., to cast the votes on this very important piece of legislation. He chose not to do that. He came here instead to raise money for his campaign, neglecting the constituents of the current 2nd Congressional District and neglecting Minnesota and Minnesotans in general who have the right to be represented in Washington, D.C.," Erlandson said.
But Kennedy says he was assured by House leaders that his vote would not be crucial. And he says his time was better spent traveling to Minnesota with the vice president to argue in person for the merits of the program.
"Part of the things that he talked about was: we're going to be building a replacement for a long-range artillery. If it isn't the Crusader, it's something else. And United Defense, with their very strong capabilities in that, could very easily be designing and engineering the new replacement for that," Kennedy said.
Kennedy says he was also able to discuss other issues of concern to Minnesotans, including agriculture. Kennedy says he stayed in Washington to cast votes the last time Cheney visited Minnesota. And he says voters would not have wanted him to stand up the vice president twice.