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Bush Visit is the Start of the Senate Campaign
By Mark Zdechlik
Minnesota Public Radio
May 16, 2001
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President Bush will be in Minnesota Thursday releasing the Republican administration's new energy policy. Political analysts say it's no coincidence the president is coming to St. Paul, given the city's mayor Norm Coleman has all but officially launched a campaign to unseat DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone. They also say Minnesotans can expect a steady stream of big name Democrats and Republicans, and almost certainly more visits from President Bush, leading up to next year's election.

President Bush visits St. Paul on Thursday. His visit is expected to give an early boost to St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman's expected bid for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Paul Wellstone. Leaders of both major parties expect the race to attract a great deal of national attention.
ST. PAUL MAYOR NORM COLEMAN chaired President Bush's Minnesota election effort. Although Bush did not end up carrying the state, he came closer than any other Republican presidential candidate since the mid 1980s. That has Republicans, locally and nationally, talking about Minnesota as a state that's shifting from its liberal roots to viable ground for conservative candidates.

With the Republicans controlling Congress by the thinnest of margins, the GOP is targeting Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone for defeat next year. Norm Coleman hasn't even officially announced his candidacy, but the White House has made it clear the former Democrat - who once called himself a Wellstone liberal - now is their man to take on Minnesota's senior senator. State Republican Party chairman Ron Eibensteiner says having the president's support will make a big difference.

"Will it help the party? Obviously. It helps in fundraising. It helps party-building. It helps in recruiting candidates. It generates a lot of enthusiasm within the party, and that's what we need to be successful," says Ebensteiner.

Mayor Norm Coleman is downplaying the politics of President Bush's visit. But he does say he's been working to develop a relationship with the new administration - acting as something of a liaison between the White House and urban mayors. Coleman says he hopes this week's visit will be the first of many by the president.

"The opportunity to take advantage of that relationship - to do things, to get things done for St. Paul - I think is a very, very, very good thing. The ultimate beneficiaries are the people of this community, the people of this state. So I'm not shy about that. Let the politics play themselves out. Ultimately, my job is about getting things done and this helps," says Coleman.

Minnesota Democrats who became accustomed to hosting President Clinton numerous times over his eight years in the White House have their own spin on the Republican president's visit.

"Actually, I'm kind of excited that President Bush is coming to Minnesota as well," says Democratic Party chairman Mike Erlandson. He says the more President Bush lays out a specifics agenda, the more Minnesotans will be inclined to support Democrats.

"Sen. Wellstone has been in Washington D.C. fighting for Minnesota and fighting for this country, and often times fighting against the Republicans in the United States Senate. So now we have a president of the United States that's got a lot of policies that I don't think go over well in Minnesota. And (Wellstone) will be able to make the case that he needs to be there fighting for Minnesota," says Erlandson.

Erlandson says there is also the issue of how the administration handled its support for Coleman. Vice President Dick Cheney's telephone call, urging Minnesota House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty not to run for senate, angered some of the party faithful. But Gustavus Adolphus College political science professor Chris Gilbert says by appearing with Coleman, President Bush stands to smooth over hard feelings.

"Minnesota Republicans will take it in the positive sense that the President and his administration cared enough about what's going on here, and cared enough about defeating Sen. Wellstone - an archetype of all that Republicans think is wrong - that he cared enough to put his personal stamp on it. In the end I think it's not a big deal," says Gilbert.

Gilbert says while it make sense for Coleman to seek help from President Bush, it does not come without risk. The political parties of first-term presidents often lose ground in mid-term elections. And though like Bush, Coleman calls himself a compassionate conservative, he's already making it clear, he's not in lock-step with the administration on every issue.