Green Party candidate Ed McGaa officially launched his bid to unseat incumbent DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone. McGaa hasn't had the same visibility as Wellstone or GOP challenger Norm Coleman, but he says his military record and environmental sensitivity will win voters. Some progressive activists, however, fear McGaa's candidacy will drain votes from Wellstone.
McGaa made his announcement in front of the state's Vietnam Veterans' War Memorial, a move meant to highlight his service in Korea and Vietnam. McGaa focuses heavily on his military career, saying it provides insight into how to pursue non-violent resolutions to difficult global problems.
He says as a registered Oglala Sioux who's published books on Native American spirituality, he has a unique perspective on managing the environment. He says Minnesotans will welcome an alternative to the standard Democratic and Republican platforms.
"In a democracy, people vote for the candidate they feel best represents their interests. It is foolish to think with all the diversity of opinions and life experiences all Minnesotans can be nicely tucked away into one of two boxes. Why should we have to get into one of those boxes? The Greens have a constitutional duty to restore democracy to the people," he said.
McGaa's candidacy is not without controversy. McGaa secured the party endorsement last May, but some Greens have since questioned his emphasis on his war record. He's attracted a primary opponent -- Ray Tricomo -- who's challenging him largely on that point. Tricomo couldn't be reached for comment.
State Green Party Chair Cam Gordon also acknowledges that some party members have viewed McGaa skeptically. "Mr. McGaa is new to the party. He hadn't been very active until he sought our endorsement for the Senate race this year. So I think a lot of people are just getting to know him or were just getting to know him then. And then, of course, there was an active group in the party and outside the party who were suggesting we don't want to endorse anyone to run for Senate," according to Gordon.
In the 2000 presidential contest, Democrats leveled similar charges at Green candidates Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke.
Gordon says party members are split over how to vote. He says its unlikely a Green Senate candidate could win, but he says a strong showing could build party support. On the other hand, he says some Greens believe Wellstone's been a strong supporter of environmental and social justice causes, and he says those voters fear splitting the vote and handing the race to Coleman.
Wellstone spokesman Jim Farrell says he thinks Green voters understand the importance the Minnesota contest. "This race between Sen. Wellstone and Coleman will probably decide who controls the Senate of the United States. Will it be a Republican majority there? They've already got the White House and the House of Representatives. Are we going to have Trent Lott as our majority leader, or are we going to have Tom Daschle? It makes a good deal of difference," Farrell said.
Coleman spokeswoman Leslie Kupchella says she expects the race to be tight regardless of the number of candidates. And she says she doesn't think the Green presence will tilt the dynamic one way or another.
"I think it's really tough for us to say exactly how this is going to come down now that there's a Green candidate, we have an Independent candidate. It's going to be tough to say exactly how that's going to play. But I think, most importantly, everybody's going to have an impact, and we all need to stay focused on the races that we need to run," she said.
Both the Coleman and Wellstone campaigns say they expect the Green Party candidate -- McGaa for now and then the eventually primary winner -- to be included in all debates. They say they'll also include Independence Party endorsee Jim Moore. But for the first major Senate debate at Farm Fest, only the two traditional party candidates are expected.More from MPR