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Wetterling drops out of Senate race; backs Klobuchar

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Patty Wetterling announces she's dropping out of the race for U.S. Senate as DFL opponent Amy Klobuchar looks on. Wetterling endorsed Klobuchar in the race for the seat being vacated by Sen. Mark Dayton. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Child advocate Patty Wetterling on Friday withdrew from the U.S. Senate race and endorsed Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar. Wetterling said she made her decision so the DFL Party would unite behind Klobuchar. While many political experts are calling Klobuchar the party's clear front-runner, another DFLer says he's in the race until the end.

St. Paul, Minn. — Patty Wetterling told a crowded Capitol news conference that her main priority was to keep Sen. Mark Dayton's seat in DFL hands. Dayton announced last year that he would not seek a second term. Wetterling says it's essential that DFL Party backers unite their time, money and support behind Amy Klobuchar.

"Amy has demonstrated that she will be a strong effective voice for the fight I believe in; protecting our children, building safer communities and seeing that every Minnesotan has access to a good education and quality health care. I will do anything I can to help Amy get elected to the United States Senate," she said.

Wetterling didn't discuss her political future, saying there were a range of possibilities available. She has been mentioned as a possible candidate for lieutenant governor and could make another run for Congress.

In 2004 Wetterling lost her first bid for Congress to Republican Mark Kennedy, who won re-election to the 6th District seat. Wetterling's announcement makes Klobuchar the clear front runner for the DFL endorsement. Political experts said they expected Wetterling to withdraw from the race since Klobuchar was racking up political endorsements and leading in campaign fundraising.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a news release saying Wetterling's decision puts Klobuchar in a strong position to win the November election. Klobuchar, who attended Wetterling's announcement, says her campaign will focus on changing things in Washington.

"We're going to win this election in November 2006 and we're going to win this election because the people of Minnesota deserve to have a senator who is going to put the interests of the families and the people of this state in front of the big drug companies and in front of the big oil companies," she said.

Several party leaders have pressured Wetterling to step aside for the good of the party.

Experts say party leaders will probably encourage veterinarian Ford Bell to make a similar move. But Bell says he's not dropping out of the race. He says Democrats now have a clear choice between himself and Klobuchar.

"From the beginning of my campaign, I've taken strong stands on issues such as universal single-payer health care and the war in Iraq. And I'm not seeing those positions... Amy hasn't take positions on those issues," he said.

The other DFL uncertainty is attorney Mike Ciresi, who ran for Senate in 2000. He did not return calls for this story.

While there's still some uncertainty who will win the DFL endorsement, it's clear Congressman Mark Kennedy has the Republican endorsement virtually locked up.

Kennedy praised Wetterling for taking a clear stance on the issues and says he hopes Klobuchar will discuss her positions on the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act and deficit reduction.

"In annointing Miss Klobuchar, the Democrats have staked themselves to a candidate who has been unwilling to tell voters where she stands on the key issues. Issue after issue after issue, you see Amy trying to hide behind poll-tested sound bites," he said.

Jennifer Duffy, with the Cook Political Report in Washington D.C., says Kennedy will now change his campaign strategy since Klobuchar appears to be the clear front-runner. She expects Kennedy to step up his fundraising and public appearances. Cook says Minnesotans should get used to seeing a lot of Kennedy and Klobuchar over the next 10 months.

"A Klobuchar-Kennedy race is going to be very competitive. It's going to be very close. It may be a different kind of race than Minnesota is used to if the nominations on both sides are settled before September. I think it makes for a longer, more drawn out and more intense race," she said.

Cook says recent polls show Kennedy and Klobuchar in a tight contest. The Minnesota DFL Party says a recent Zogby poll shows that voters strongly favor DFL candidates. The Republican Party of Minnesota says Zogby has been wrong on several Minnesota races in the past.