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Real estate developer Kelly Doran enters Senate race
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DFLer Kelly Doran entered the U.S. Senate race Sunday, hoping to succeed Mark Dayton, who is not running for re-election. (MPR Photo/William Wilcoxen)
A political newcomer who calls himself a centrist Democrat has entered the race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mark Dayton. Twin Cities real estate developer Kelly Doran announced his candidacy Sunday at a construction site in Oakdale, where his company is building a shopping center. Doran says officials in Washington have been fiscally immoral by saddling future generations with mountains of debt.

Oakdale, Minn. — Kelly Doran admits that name recognition is not a strong suit in his Senate campaign. But he says he's ready to commit 17 months and a piece of his personal fortune to overcome his obscurity.

"I have been a builder for 20 years," Kelly proclaimed to a crowd of supporters. "Not just a builder of buildings like the ones that surround us here today, but a builder of community spirit and pride. A builder of thousands of union jobs. A builder of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax base that supports our schools and local governments. A builder of bringing people together and believing that we are stronger when we work together."

Doran says he and his business partner own more than three million square feet of shopping centers in Minnesota. But he's taking a leave of absence from his business to focus on becoming the successor to Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton, who is not seeking re-election in 2006.

In kicking off his campaign, Doran talked most about his family and about economic issues, especially the federal government's deficit spending.

Someone must put a stop to this red and blue adversarial insanity that goes on in Washington D.C. We are not red and blue. We are Americans.
- DFL U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Doran

"Day after day, the politicians in Washington add mountains of debt onto the shoulders of our children," said Doran. "What happened to the American tradition of one generation leaving a better world and a better opportunity for the next generation?"

Doran says he is a lifelong Democrat. He made it clear, though, that he is in the moderate wing of the party. His campaign staff includes John Wodele, the former spokesman for Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura.

Doran says the practice of promoting junior politicians to senior politicians has not served the country well. He spoke of the need to send citizens to Washington to put the nation's interests ahead of partisanship.

"Someone must put a stop to this red and blue adversarial insanity that goes on in Washington D.C. We are not red and blue. We are Americans," said Doran. "The children who suffer from this fiscal insanity and irresponsibility don't know if they live in a red state or a blue state. They only know that when they're hungry, it's hard to concentrate in the classroom. And when they're sick, they should be able to go to the doctor."

Doran declined to be specific about the size of his personal fortune, or how much of it he's prepared to spend on his Senate bid. He joins Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar in campaigning to be the Democrat on the November 2006 Senate ballot. Doran hasn't decided whether to seek the party endorsement, while Klobuchar says she won't run in the primary if she's not endorsed.

Klobuchar says she welcomes Doran to the race and is not threatened by his wealth.

"This has happened all over the country, where you have self-funders, people who are multi-millionaires that get into politics that have never been involved before. They haven't always fared that well," said Klobuchar. "I'm just running a grassroots campaign. I'm not a millionaire and I know I need to raise millions of dollars, but we're doing that one call at a time."

Child safety advocate Patty Wetterling is also raising money for a possible Senate race, but has not declared herself a candidate. Political scientist Larry Jacobs, the Mondale Chair at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, says Doran's wealth can help him overcome his lack of name recognition and makes him formidable in the Democratic race.

"His deep pockets represent his biggest advantage at this point," Jacobs says. "Other candidates coming into the race have much higher name recognition and established records, and support among the Democratic faithful. He doesn't have that. What he brings is deep pockets and a pretty sure sense that there's going to be room for him in this fight to stake out an alternative."

While Democrats are girding for a lengthy battle for their spot on the Senate ballot, Republicans seem to have already settled on 6th District Congressman Mark Kennedy as their candidate. Kennedy's leading Republican rivals have already stepped aside, and Jacobs says that puts the GOP in a good position as the party tries to capture Dayton's Senate seat.

"The Republicans, a year and a half out from the fall 2006 election, are focusing on 2006," says Jacobs. "The Democrats are focusing on each other. So, you've got to raise questions about whether the Democrats are going to end up beating themselves up before they even get to the main event."

A spokeswoman for Kennedy said the congressman is focused on his own campaign and had no comment on Kelly Doran's candidacy.