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Wetterling's campaign theme: Children are our future
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Patty Wetterling accepts the 6th district nomination to run for Congress. (MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)
Patty Wetterling is now the DFL-endorsed candidate for Congress in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District. Friday evening the district's party activists, gathered in Duluth for the state convention, enthusiastically gave their backing to Wetterling's bid to unseat Republican Congressman Mark Kennedy.

Duluth, Minn. — As Wetterling accepted the endorsement, she told cheering 6th District delegates that she's not a professional politician.

"I am a mother, a math teacher by training, and an advocate for missing and exploited children by necessity," Wetterling said. "Today I'm taking the next step to be an advocate for the people in the 6th District, and your representative in our democracy. The message of my campaign is a simple one. It can be summed up in one phrase -- our children are our future."

Wetterling announced plans to run for Congress earlier this month. Since her son Jacob was abducted in the fall of 1989, Wetterling has worked as an advocate for missing children. Wetterling has helped pass sex offender legislation and headed the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, a non-profit center on missing dealing with issues of children and sexual exploitation.

Wetterling is a household name in Minnesota. But until now she has not been active in DFL politics. She was unoppposed in seeking the DFL endorsement. Wetterling pledged to fight for children if she's elected, and she tried to get out in front of criticism that she's a single-issue candidate.

"If making sure that our kids aren't saddled with an insurmountable national debt, I guess I am," Wetterling said. "If working to make sure families can afford health insurance for themselves and their children, I guess I am. If it means that I will work to invest in education, K-12 and then beyond so our kids can compete in the marketplace of the 21st century, I guess I am. If it means that we preserve Social Security and Medicare for future generations, I guess I am."

If elected officials aren't making the world a safer, better place for kids, then what are they doing in Washington?
- Patty Wetterling

Wetterling said every issue is about kids.

"If elected officials aren't making the world a safer, better place for kids, then what are they doing in Washington?"

Sixth District delegates gave Wetterling a rousing reception, often interrupting her with applause.

Even though unseating a member of Congress is difficult, delegate Mike Sharp from Clearwater is convinced Wetterling can win. He says she'll be able to raise money and run a well-organized campaign.

"She's coming in late, so the name recognition you can't complain about. But Patty's a really solid person and many of us in Stearns County know Patty," Sharp says. "She's a strong activist, and the issue that she's known for is one that bleeds into other issues so well it's not even funny. So there's no way they can come after Patty Wetterling and say she doesn't have what it takes to be a congressperson, and she has experience working across the aisle."

Sharp also predicts Wetterling's popularity will draw an extraordinary number of campaign volunteers.

Alternate delegate Jorene Gabrielson, who lives in Hanover, calls Wetterling a hard worker. Gabrielson, who says she's never met Wetterling, says the candidate called her at home recently. Wetterling has been working the phones, trying to get support from delegates.

Gabrielson says she's proud to back Wetterling. She thinks the missing childrens' advocate will win in November by attracting suppport from a wide range of people.

"People believe in her. She's not a politican. She's very truthful and very honest," says Gabrielson.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy says he will run for re-election on his record. Kennedy has supported the war on terrorism and the GOP tax cuts.

At the convention podium, 8th District Rep. Jim Oberstar took a stab at Kennedy, while praising Wetterling for a long list of legislative accomplishments.

"Patty's been there. Sex offender legislation -- passed in 50 states. Sex offender release notification legislation -- passed. Amber Alert legislation -- passed," Oberstar said. "Her opponent? He can't even get a train whistle on the Northstar commuter rail."

Oberstar handed Wetterling a check for $1,000 and encouraged others to contribute to her campaign.

Wetterling told reporters that past few weeks have been a whirlwind for her.

"The process of deciding was (a) very soul-searching process, and once you make those decisions, it just reaffirms my decision to fight for children and to fight for the things I believed in," Wetterling said. "And I really feel that people in Minnesota know what I'm about, and ... that's what I'm hoping that they will remember as they go to vote."

Wetterling says the type of of campaign she will run will depend on how much money she's able to collect. She says she wants to reach voters any way she can.

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