St. Cloud, Minn. — Patty Wetterling says her campaign for the U.S. Senate is more crisply defined than her bid for the House last year. She's best known for the work she's done as an activist for children's safety issues ever since her son, Jacob, was kidnapped 16 years ago. He was never found.
But lately Wetterling's been adding a host of other national concerns to her slate. Those include increased funding for health care, Social Security, and education. And Wetterling's also making strong pronouncements about the war in Iraq.
"Last week I became the first Senate candidate in the nation to call for a specific date to bring our troops home. I set that date as Thanksgiving 2006. I can't watch another American soldier die or another American dollar be spent on a war that has no plan and seemingly no end," she said.
Political science professor Joe Kunkel of Minnesota State University Mankato says plenty of politicians have called the Iraq war a mistake. But he says not many have proposed an actual solution, as Wetterling has done.
"This is a strong position that she's taken and something that differentiates her from a lot of other candidates. Now Republicans will criticize her for undermining the troops and contributing to defeat. But it is a clear position. And also I think it will be a challenge to other DFL candidates to take a similar clear position," he said.
The move prompted Klobuchar's campaign manager, Jessica Vanden Berg, to say Sunday that Klobuchar wants the president to create a plan to bring U.S. troops home - barring that, Congress should require the Joint Chiefs of Staff to make a plan, including a timetable.
In her bid for political office last year, Wetterling wasn't known for clear positions. Some said she wasn't doing her homework on the issues. At Farm Fest in summer 2004, she declined to respond to questions put to her about agricultural policy.
Her campaign manager, Carol Butler, says Wetterling will have more to say about the issues this time around.
"She's been spending a lot of time brushing up on federal issues. She's been spending a lot of time travelling across the state this summer, listening to people of Minnesota and their thoughts and feelings about their issues. So she is I think a more confidant, more aggressive candidate than when she ran in the 6th District.
Wetterling's mastery of the issues will, of course, only be one part of the equation. Money is an another. According to political experts, this Senate race could be one of the more competitive -- and expensive -- upcoming political battles. Wetterling's opponents, including Mark Kennedy and DFL competitor Amy Klobuchar, have been hard at work raising money for their campaigns. Wetterling's campaign manager says they'll release figures on how much Wetterling has raised later this week.
Wetterling's Iraq position may help her with liberal Democratic activists needed to win the party's endorsement, Jacobs said, but it could make her vulnerable to attacks from Republicans later in the campaign.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)