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Doran taps Legislature's only Independent as running mate

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Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, the only Independence Party member in the Legislature, has been tapped to be the running mate of DFL gubernatorial candidate Kelly Doran. She says she'll join the DFL Party. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
DFL gubernatorial candidate Kelly Doran has added State Sen. Sheila Kiscaden to his ticket. Kiscaden was an Independence Party member and former Republican from Rochester, who is switching to the DFL Party. Doran and Kiscaden say they plan to reach out to Minnesotans across the political spectrum.

St. Paul, Minn. — Kelly Doran is a real estate developer who's never run for office before. Sheila Kiscaden is well-known in political circles as a four-term state senator. Doran says he chose Kiscaden as a running mate because her background complements his.

"Obviously, I understand that I have less experience than many in the legislative process. Sheila is by far, one of the most respected and highly regarded legislators in our state," Doran said.

Kiscaden chairs the Senate State Government Budget Division, and has focused on health care throughout her legislative career. She says she's worked with people of all political stripes, and last year, led a workshop called "Beyond Bickering and Gridlock" to help lawmakers find common ground.

Kiscaden says she was wooed by other gubernatorial candidates, including Peter Hutchinson, who plans to run for governor as an Independence Party candidate. Kiscaden says she accepted Doran's invitation because it felt like the right fit.

"Do you ever go to work and you meet somebody, and you think, 'Gosh, I could really work well with that person?' That's how I felt when I met Kelly," Kiscaden said. "I looked at his position papers, very similar to my own views on most every issue."

Kiscaden is a moderate who served as a Republican for 10 years, until local Republicans refused to endorse her in 2002. She then ran as an Independence Party candidate, but continued to caucus with Senate Republicans until Senate Minority Leader Dick Day kicked her out of the caucus last year. After that, she joined the Senate DFL caucus.

In a statement, the state Republican Party called Kiscaden an opportunist who is undergoing a midlife political crisis. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who's up for reelection this year, welcomed Kiscaden to the race while questioning her political identity.

"She's been seeking a political home for some months or years. She used to be a Republican, then an independent, now a Democrat, so I hope this is a comfortable place for her," Pawlenty said.

Doran is trying to stake out the political middle with his campaign, and is running as a pro-business Democrat. He hasn't decided whether to seek the DFL party endorsement, and will run in the DFL primary regardless.

Other Democrats in the race are Attorney General Mike Hatch and two of Kiscaden's colleagues, state Sens. Steve Kelley and Becky Lourey.

Political scientist Dan Hofrenning from St. Olaf College in Northfield says Doran's choice of Kiscaden may appeal to moderate Democrats who think capturing the middle is the best way to beat Pawlenty. But Hofrenning says Doran shouldn't underestimate the political obstacles he faces.

"If you look at the last few decades of Minnesota politics, other than Jesse Ventura, there aren't many outsiders who have successfully won elective office. Probably the most recent unsuccessful candidacy was Michael Ciresi who had lots of money and people thought he had a great chance to win, but he wasn't able to prevail," Hofrenning said. "People are attracted to the abstract idea of having an outsider or not having a career politician, but when it comes to actually voting for one, it's a significant uphill climb."

Hofrenning says Kiscaden's decision is a blow to the Independence Party, which lost its only elected official in state government.

Independence Party chair Jim Moore says the party shares Kiscaden's goal of setting aside partisanship, but doesn't think joining either the Republican or DFL parties is the way to do it.

"When you choose to run under one of the two entrenched parties, you carry the baggage that they have for the fundraising that they have done in the past, and the influences that they represent. So they're going to have a lot of pulls on them from that standpoint," says Moore.

Doran is a multi-millionaire who has already tapped his personal wealth for his campaign. He spent $500,000 on his first television ad buy. He is currently running radio ads in English and Spanish, and billboards featuring him and Kiscaden.