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2006 U.S. Senate race attracting a lot of early money
Minnesota's 2006 U.S. Senate race got off to an early start with incumbent Mark Dayton's announcement he will will not seek re-election. Just three months into 2005, candidates and would be candidates say they've raised nearly $1.5 million in campaign contributions. Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-6th District, is so far the only candidate to formally announce for Senate. Kennedy and other several likely challengers released fundraising information they hope will strengthen their positions early in the campaign.

St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesotans won't vote for candidates to replace Mark Dayton until November of 2006. Even so, early fundraising activity points to potentially unprecedented interest in the campaign.

Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, a DFLer, hasn't even formally announced her expected bid for senate. Still Klobuchar's campaign committee says it raised $580,000 in the first quarter of 2005.

Klobuchar says she's encouraged by her initial fundraising success.

"I'm very pleased by both the financial and volunteer support that our campaign has received, and I would stress, while the financial support is very important, we're also pleased with the number of volunteers that have come forward," Klobuchar said.

Klobuchar won't say just how much she thinks she'll need to run for senate. She says she will soon make a formal announcement about her candidacy.

Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-6th District, is the only formally announced senate candidate. Kennedy reports raising more than $550,000 in January, February and in March.

...I just think it's very hard to anoint a front-runner based on one quarter of fundraising.
- Carleton College Political Science Professor Steven Schier

Kennedy already has the public support of numerous Republican elected officials, including most Republicans in the Minnesota legislature and Gov. Tim Palwenty.

Kennedy campaign spokeswoman Heidi Frederickson says Kennedy is happy with his initial fundraising and this strong start is just the beginning.

"We need to raise as much money as it's going to take to get his message of Minnesota values and common sense solutions out across the entire state," Frederickson said. "I don't know if anybody's been able to pinpoint it yet on an exact dollar figure, but he's going to raise the resources that are necessary in order to do that."

The Kennedy campaign won't says only that it expects to outspend the $10.2 million Republican Norm Coleman raised for his successful Senate bid in 2002.

Patty Wetterling, a DFLer, who last year was unsuccessful in her campaign to unseat Kennedy in the 6th district, is also considering running in the 2006 Senate campaign.

Wetterling's campaign advisory committee's operations director Mike Dorsey says the Wetterling organization has raised about $330,000.

Dorsey says, although that figure is considerably less than what Kennedy and Klobuchar brought in, Wetterling has only been fundraising for about a month.

"In less than three weeks she's put together a grass roots movement of everyday Minnesotans who have been moved by her vision for a better America." Dorsey said. "She has over 3500 donors."

Democrat Mike Ciresi, who's also exploring a senate campaign, did not return telephone calls from Minnesota Public Radio regarding what, if any, fundraising he's done this year.

Republican Rod Grams, who lost his seat in the Senate to Mark Dayton in the 2000 election has said repeatedly said he plans to run again. Grams told Minnesota Public Radio he has not begun fundraising.

Carleton College Political Science Professor Steven Schier says the early release of the fundraising numbers, which aren't even due with the Federal Elections Commission until the middle of the month, is all about posturing.

"You want to seal in the front runner status and since it's so early you can perhaps discourage other people from entering the field and therefore have a better chance in that way," Schier says.

Still, Schier says it's early in the process. He says simply coming out of the chute with strong fundraising by no means decides which of campaigns will rise to the top.

"All the candidates who are suggesting numbers are doing reasonably well and I just think it's very hard to anoint a front-runner based on one quarter of fundraising," Schier says.

Schier says he's not surprised the 2006 senate race is already attracting so much money; nearly $1.5 million dollars among Klobuchar, Kennedy and Wetterling. He expects the race will ultimately cost the major party contenders and outside groups well over $30 million making it the most costly in Minnesota history.