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Wetterling is working hard to raise money and attention in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District
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Wetterling has been courting votes and dollars at house parties like this one in St. Cloud. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Political junkies will be scanning the latest fundraising reports, looking to see how candidates in the most competitive races are faring. In Minnesota they'll pay particular attention to the 6th Congressional District race between Republican incumbent Mark Kennedy and DFLer Patty Wetterling. The race may come down to experience versus name recognition. Kennedy is hoping that voters will appreciate his two terms in office over Wetterling's popularity. MPR takes a look at Wetterling's first few months in the campaign.

St. Paul, Minn. — This is Patty Wetterling's first attempt at elected office, and she's learning the game of politics on the fly. She's juggling fundraisers with parades. At a fundraiser in the garage of some St. Cloud friends, Wetterling tries to meet as many of her supporters as she can without getting pinned down in long conversations.

Wetterling looks at ease talking among individual supporters. But it's obvious that she isn't 100 percent comfortable with the political spotlight.

Her campaign says her late entry into the race has forced her to spend a large part of the last month working the phones and attending fundraisers like the one in St. Cloud.

About 75 people attend the event to share food, drink and political discussion. But the focus of the evening is money. Wetterling supporter Jim Grave points the crowd to a sign on the wall. It's the night's goal of $20,000.

"The professionals tell us we need a quarter of a million dollars by the day after tomorrow" Grave said. "I'm not sure how close we are to that but if we get $20,000 I think we'll be there."

The pitch worked. Wetterling campaign officials say they've exceeded their goal and actually raised more than $300,000 to date.

Wetterling has become a nationally known figure for something she wished had never happened. In 1989, her son Jacob was abducted and has never been found. Since that time, Wetterling has been an advocate for child protection issues on the state and federal level. She says she decided to run for congress because it was the next logical step for her. Wetterling says her campaign will focus on how her decisions will impact children.

"I've been accused of being a single issue candidate and I'm so proud of that" Wetterling told the crowd. "It's good. I really can't think of a single issue that doesn't affect our children and I think that voice needs to be heard."

Supporters at the event say they admire Wetterling for choosing to run for Congress in a competitive district. Minnesota's 6th Congressional District includes St. Cloud and stretches into the northern Twin Cities suburbs and east to Stillwater. The district leans Republican and overwhelmingly voted Mark Kennedy into office in 2002.

Wetterling says she's been trying to meet as many people as possible since she started running for Congress. She's made several trips to Washington, D.C. to seek support from some national organizations, like Wetterling also says she's still trying to figure out where she stands on some of the issues.

She says most of the people in her district are concerned about the economy, health care and the war in Iraq. But she can't offer specifics on how she'll solve those problems.

"I do believe that where I stand on tax relief, on health care, on funding special education, on making sure we keep America secure and on other issues is aligned with my district."
- Republican Congressman Mark Kennedy

"I don't want to overstate that I have the formula and that I'll solve every problem," Wetterling said. "I'm working very hard to listen to people right now. This is what I did with missing children. You listen, and you ask questions. And I think in the asking of the questions we will find our answers."

Wetterling's campaign says it would be a mistake to turn Wetterling into a policy wonk. They say she's just a average person running for Congress.

The Minnesota Republican Party says it isn't Wetterling's experience but her stance on issues that will harm her in the upcoming election. They say voters in the 6th district won't appreciate that she favors abortion rights and is opposed to a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Wetterling's opponent, Republican incumbent Mark Kennedy, says he intends to focus on his voting record, which is closely aligned with President Bush. He also says he's in a good position to relate to his constituents.

"I have a pretty good understanding on how Minnesotans think, particularly in the 6th district," Kennedy said. "I do believe that where I stand on tax relief, on health care on funding special education, on making sure we keep America secure and on other issues is aligned with my district."

Kennedy says he expects the race to be competitive and expensive. He says the price of advertising has not gone down and he intends to get his message out to the voters.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is also stepping up its efforts to help Kennedy. He's one of 39 candidates who will share political donations from the so-called Million Dollar Club.

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