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Candidates scramble for cash; polls show Wellstone may be in trouble
By Mark Zdechlik
Minnesota Public Radio
April 16, 2002

Money by the millions of dollars continues to pour into Minnesota's U.S. Senate race. DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone raised more than $1.5 million for his re-election campaign during the first three months of the year. Wellstone has raised more than $5.5 million in his re-election effort. Wellstone's Republican challenger, Norm Coleman, hasn't completed his campaign finance report for the period. Wellstone began the year with $2.14 million in the bank, compared to Coleman's $1.4 million.

The Coleman campaign said it expected to clear $1 million from the early March fundraiser with President Bush.
(MPR File Photo)

According to Sen. Wellstone's campaign finance disclosure summary, the Democrat ended the first quarter with $2.5 million.

Wellstone campaign spokesman Jim Farrell declined to answer specific questions about fundraising, but read a statement attributing Wellstone's fundraising success to the campaign's "remarkably broad appeal among Minnesotans and others."

"Millions of dollars of powerful special interest money is pouring into our state in an attempt to defeat Sen. Wellstone," Farrell said. "So we are raising the resources we need to run this tough race and we're doing it the right way - in small donations from tens of thousands of ordinary citizens."

The Wellstone campaign says its average individual contribution came in at less than $50 and that so far more than 71,000 people have donated to the campaign.

During the first quarter, Wellstone also took in nearly $80,000 in political action committee - PAC - money and received nearly $17,000 from political party committees.

Republican challenger Norm Coleman kept even with Sen. Wellstone. Coleman also raised about $1.5 million. Coleman finished the period with $1.6 million in the bank. That's around $1 million behind Wellstone.

It's been a busy three months for Coleman. He officially kicked off his campaign in February and in March got some high profile help from the White House when President Bush visited Minnesota.

The Coleman campaign said it expected to clear $1 million from the early March fundraiser with President Bush.

Gustavus Adolphus political science professor Chris Gilbert estimates the Coleman campaign likely leveraged the president's visit to bring in much more than $1 million.

"Certainly the fact that the president showed up and played a major role early, that would suggest to a lot of other contributors who Coleman is talking to that he's a good bet here and so I would say it's certainly going to be probably closer to $2 million, perhaps even more," according to Gilbert.

And Gilbert says by the time it's over, Wellstone and Coleman likely will have raised upwards of $20 million between them, easily setting a new Senate race spending record.

Already the race is eclipsing the Grams-Dayton battle which set the last record for spending. At this time in that race, Mark Dayton wasn't even officially a candidate and Republican Sen. Rod Grams had raised just a little more than $600,000 during the first quarter.

Control of the Senate is at stake, drawing more national attention than usual to the Minnesota contest. Gilbert says with those implications and with likely voters about evenly split in their support, Coleman and Wellstone will have no problem raising relatively huge sums of money.

"If Minnesotans have already felt like they're being bombarded by information about this campaign, it's only going to get heavier because I think neither candidate sees any value to letting up on the other side or to letting up and getting his particular message out and the amount of money they're raising is going to make that possible now through November," he said.

"Look, Paul Wellstone's campaigns are always close. It's what he's used to running. We've won two of them, and we expect to win again."

- Jeff Blodgett, Wellstone campaign manager

Coleman's first quarter fundraising figures will be available in the coming days through federal regulators.


Meanwhile, in the matchup of incumbents for Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, Republican Mark Kennedy and Democrat Bill Luther raised almost identical sums in the first quarter. But Luther has almost twice as much money in the bank.

Kennedy raised $232,000, just shy of Luther's $237,000. Kennedy, who decided to challenge Luther after a redistricting plan put Kennedy's house in the 6th district, finished the period with $558,000 in the bank. Luther had just over $1 million.

"Even though it looks like we have a financial advantage, it's something of an illusion because we know there will be an incredible flood of soft money," said Luther chief of staff Bob Decheine, referring to advertising by the Republican Party and outside groups. "Mark Kennedy got some incredible promises in order to run against another incumbent, and those promises will be cashed in shortly."

Kennedy chief of staff Pat Fiske declined to respond to Decheine's comments.

"We think our fund-raising in the first quarter was very successful," he said. "We wanted to be ahead of $500,000 by the end of March, and we exceeded that by over $58,000."

Luther is also considering a run in the 2nd Congressional District, where his 1998 and 2000 GOP opponent, John Kline, recently announced he was running. Kline raised $2,170 and had just under $28,000 in the bank, mostly left over from his 2000 campaign.

"A lot of people are encouraging us to run in the 2nd," Decheine said. "We're actively looking at both districts. Nothing will be finalized until after the state convention in May."

Kline said he'd welcome another face-off with Luther. "This is a district where he can't win," Kline said.


As the cash scramble heats up, polls are showing the races are tight.

Two polls conducted by political parties show that Sen. Paul Wellstone is struggling in his campaign for a third term, according to a report published Tuesday.

The polls show the Democrat getting support from just 42 percent of Minnesota voters, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

On Monday, national Democrats released a poll showing Wellstone narrowly leading Republican challenger Norm Coleman - 42 percent to 40 percent. Earlier this month, national Republicans released their own poll of Minnesota voters showing Coleman ahead, 49 percent to 42 percent.

Wellstone's campaign cites a history of close races for the former political science teacher.

"Look, Paul Wellstone's campaigns are always close," Jeff Blodgett, Wellstone's campaign manager, told the newspaper. "It's what he's used to running. We've won two of them, and we expect to win again."

Two political analysts, however, think the results spell trouble for the senator.

"They agree on one thing: This incumbent is in trouble," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "It doesn't matter if Wellstone's up by 2, or Coleman's ahead by 7. Any incumbent who is polling around 40 percent just six months ahead of Election Day is in trouble."

Bill Morris, a pollster and Augsburg College political scientist, concurs.

"It's very bad news for Paul Wellstone," he said. "First, they confirm that it's a close race. Second, they indicate a real weakness and vulnerability on the part of the incumbent."

The party polls reinforce a pattern shown in nonpartisan media polls, in which Wellstone failed to top 50 percent. A nonpartisan poll commissioned by the Pioneer Press in February showed Wellstone at 46 percent, Coleman at 42 percent, and 12 percent undecided.

Leslie Kupchella, a spokeswoman for Coleman's campaign, said she was "surprised that a 12-year incumbent is touting the fact that 42 percent support him. I think the Democratic poll tells us we have an incumbent in trouble."

The Republican poll, conducted March 26-27 by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 600 likely voters in Minnesota. The Democratic poll, conducted April 10-11 by the Mellman Group, surveyed 500 likely voters in the state.

The polls' margins of error were not immediately available.

The Associated Press contributed to this report