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Ford Bell is the latest Democrat to formally launch a 2006 Senate campaign. Bell says he thinks the wide field of DFL contenders will ultimately make the chosen candidate strong. (MPR Photo/ Mark Zdechlik)
Another Democrat is entering the 2006 race for U.S. Senate. Veterinarian Ford Bell will formally launch his campaign Friday. On the Republican side, Vice President Dick Cheney will be in Minnesota raising money for U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, who's also running for Senate. Although Kennedy is the favorite among top Republicans for the Senate race, he's not alone in his bid for the GOP endorsement.

St. Paul, Minn. — Ford Bell's entrance means four DFLers are now vying for the Senate seat that incumbent Mark Dayton is leaving next year.

Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar and real estate developer Kelly Doran have already kicked off their campaigns.

Child safety advocate Patty Wetterling has not formally announced, but she's raised more than $750,000 for the race.

Bell has taught veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota, as well as Spanish at the high school level. He is currently president of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. Bell says he's running for Senate because he wants to ensure Democrats hold on to Dayton's seat.

"Obviously the war in Iraq is a very important issue that looms over everything, with the continued violence, the continued insurgency, the continued loss of young American lives and also the loss of significant numbers of Iraqi lives," Bell says. "And the other big issue is health care. I think that's an issue that we as a country have to confront."

As the list of DFL Senate candidates grows, Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy continues to solidify his position as the GOP favorite. Kennedy has already raised more than $1.3 million, and he'll add significantly to that with the help of Vice President Cheney.

Former state GOP party chairman Bill Cooper is hosting the fundraiser at his Wayzata home.

Although the White House is backing Kennedy, Cooper says it's a different scenario than Minnesota's last Senate race, in which President Bush and Karl Rove personally appealed to Norm Coleman to take on Paul Wellstone.

"The Bush people really had very little to do with Kennedy's running. I mean there was no anointment, if you will, in that connection," Cooper says. "Kennedy got it because everybody in the Republican Party thought he was the best guy to get it."

Not quite everybody.

Vietnam veteran and retired Army chaplin Harold Shudlick of Apple Valley says he's a candidate too.

Shudlick is among some Republicans who are critical of party leaders' early conclusion that Kennedy will be the GOP Senate candidate. He's been traveling throughout the state meeting with Republican activists.

"I'm going to make the best effort that I can, to give the voters of the Republican Party the best choice they can possibly have as an alternative to somebody selected by the puppet masters. And I think the delegates are responding to that," says Shudlick.

Shudlick says his main issues revolve around tightening immigration and preserving what he calls "American culture." He says Kennedy has voted for too much federal spending. He's also critical of his fellow Republican's positions on some trade issues.

Washington University political scientist Steven Smith closely follows Minnesota politics. Smith says by rallying around Kennedy early, Republicans avoid interparty competition for campaign cash and volunteers.

Smith says infighting could hurt the growing pool of Democratic Senate candidates. But he also says having top-level, outside Republicans campaigning for Kennedy is not without risk for the GOP, particularly if the "kingmaker-puppetmaster" rhetoric sticks.

"This isn't the kind of criticism that Mark Kennedy really needs, because if this kind of criticism is heard and registered, it can affect his campaign in the fall," Smith says. "He will be seen like he's a candidate of the White House and not of Minnesotans."

But Smith says the benefits of having so much support so early likely outweigh the potential downside.

Kennedy's campaign won't say how much it expects to rake in at its private fundraiser, only that supporters will contribute $1,000 each to attend the lunch and that some will pay more than double that to have their picture taken with Cheney.

Shudlick maintains the money the vice president raises should be awarded to the candidate whom GOP activists endorse at their convention next year.

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