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Chapter One: Me, a Senate Candidate

 

On primary night, Tuesday, September 10, 2002, I waited impatiently for the results of the U.S. Senate race in the Independence Party primary to be reported. There had been a virtual news black-out concerning this race. I thought it could go either way. Finally, around 10:20 p.m., a brief note flashed across the bottom of the television screen during the Channel Four news program: U.S. Senate Independence Party, Moore 50%, McGaughey 30%. So, with less than half of the precincts reporting, I was finishing second to Jim Moore, the party-endorsed candidate. My heart sank. Still, 30% was a solid showing. I drove over to the Moore headquarters in south Minneapolis to congratulate the winner. The percentages were staying about the same as more precincts reported. A week later, the Minnesota Secretary of State’s web site reported the following result:

Jim Moore 13,525 votes 49.44% of total
William McGaughey 8,482 votes 31.00 % of total
Ronald E. Wills 5,351 votes 19.56 % of total

 

So ended a short but hard-fought campaign. I had driven more than 5,000 miles to all parts of Minnesota during the preceding month. I had visited newspaper offices in more than 100 cities and towns. In the end, I spent about $2,000 on the campaign in addition to the $400 filing fee. People seemed to be accepting the implausible twin planks of my campaign: support for a 32-hour workweek and dignity for white males. I thought, for a time, that I really could win this thing.

But then, in the last week, after a driver with failed brakes struck and wrecked my ‘92 Ford Escort at the intersection of Cleveland and Roselawn in Roseville, I began to have inklings that the result might be otherwise. Emails from the Independence Party disclosed that volunteers for Jim Moore would be dropping 25,000 pieces of literature in the 5th Congressional District during the week preceding the election. A phone bank would be working on Moore’s behalf election eve. Moore’s wife, Shari, was responsible for a warm, fuzzy item that appeared in both the St. Paul and Minneapolis papers: she delivered the couple’s third child on September 1st. I had a paid ad and article in the Watchdog, a small free-circulation newspaper in Minneapolis, but, due to a production glitch, the newspaper came out a week late - on election day. And still the Star Tribune, the state’s largest newspaper, had failed to print a single word about my or Ronald Wills’ candidacy in its news reporting about the Senate primary. Under the circumstances, holding Moore to less than half of the vote was not bad.

At the time of the Independence Party state convention, July 13th, I had no plans to become a candidate. It was my first state convention with this party. I had attended its precinct caucuses in north Minneapolis consecutively since 1998 but not any conventions. The caucuses were poorly attended and the participants rather quarrelsome. I also had political interests outside of electoral politics. But then Jesse Ventura’s last-minute decision not to seek reelection as Governor, Tim Penny’s entrance into the race, and a quirky personal experience involving Christine Jax, the state’s commissioner of Children, Families, and Learning, then a rival candidate for Governor, revived my interest. When the Independence Party’s 5th District chair, Peter Tharaldson, offered me a ride to the St. Cloud convention in his van, I accepted. It happened that, in the early morning, he and his companions could not find my house. So, I drove to St. Cloud by myself.

Although none of those who had attended the Senate District 58 precinct caucus were at the convention, I did know several other persons. The principal candidates all had booths. I talked with Dean Alger and a few others. Jim Moore, the leading contender for the U.S. Senate nomination, had called me before the convention. He was an earnest, personable candidate. However, I do not like political conventions, especially the discussions of rules and procedures. The message which came through during the more interesting part of the program was that the Independence Party was a “centrist” party that avoided the ideological extremes to which the Democrats and Republicans had fallen prey. I tried to pin down some of my lunch companions about what this meant. What were the extremes? What was the center position? There were varying interpretations. Independence Party candidates were just “in the middle”.

I listened to the candidates’ speeches. The most lively contest was over the endorsement for U.S. Senate. In a contest with Alan Fine, Moore won a substantial majority of votes from the 170 convention delegates. Moore told us how, as a small banker, he had the private-sector experience so sorely missed in government: he could introduce private-sector-like efficiencies to the federal bureaucracy. He believed that schools should be held accountable for results. He was in favor of fiscal responsibility and campaign finance reform. Disapprovingly, he referred to the recent accounting scandals which had shaken the corporate world. He expressed personal admiration for Gandhi and Martin Luther King. As a boy, he had cried when told that Hank Aaron had received death threats.

Listening to all this, I was vaguely troubled. Here was a candidate whom the Independence Party would soon be sending out to do battle with Paul Wellstone and Norm Coleman, each expected to have a $10 million campaign budget. (The U.S. Senate race in Minnesota actually wound up costing a total of $35 million.) With such a bland program, how would Moore get his message across through the glare of better-known candidates from the two major parties? Hadn’t I heard most of Moore’s talking points before? What made them different from what a Democrat or a Republican might say?

I could do better, I thought. This was no time for reasonable, nuanced positions. Independence Party candidates had to mount a frontal attack on both major parties. Polls showed that, while the gubernatorial candidate, Tim Penny, a former Congressman, was running neck-and-neck with the Democratic and Republican candidates for Governor, the party’s other candidates for state-wide or federal offices were at a severe disadvantage. They needed to distinguish themselves in some way. I thought I knew the type of campaign which had to be run - one with bold positions and raw energy, issuing a visceral appeal for change.

That was, in fact, what I had done less than a year earlier when I ran for Mayor of Minneapolis. Waging a purely negative campaign, I threw caution to the wind. I walked around the streets of downtown Minneapolis with a picket sign and passed out literature. This literature told prospective voters in graphic detail some of the rotten things which the incumbent city administration had done. Its development agency had seized properties by eminent domain, paying the owners pennies on the dollar, and then torn the buildings down. Its inspections departments had condemned structurally sound buildings due to political pressures. And now there was a housing shortage. Throw the rascals out! - no subtlety here - was the message. When came the general election on November 5th, Minneapolis voters did vote for sweeping change. The incumbent mayor was defeated. The 13-member city council had seven new members.

While proud to have been part of the process which produced such sweeping change, I was not proud of the results of my own campaign. In a field of 22 mayoral candidates, I finished twelfth, attracting a meager 143 votes city wide. My ballot designation, “Affordable housing - preservation”, represented a position which enjoyed overwhelming public support. I had personal credibility on this issue. I had passed out 4,500 pieces of literature. And that was the result? Admittedly, I am not the best campaigner in the world. I’m a 240-pound, middle-aged white guy who wears glasses and occasionally lets his shirt tails hang outside of his trousers. Maybe if I had spent less time pushing my literature on people and more time talking with them, the result might have been different.

Come to think of it, a political candidate who walks around city streets with a picket sign does not project the image of a winner; we think this type of person must be announcing the end of the world. The winning candidates all ride between television studios in chauffeur-driven limousines. In a more charitable spirit, I decided that the voters may not have been paying full attention to me as a candidate because they were distracted by other events. The 2001 Minneapolis primary might not have been conducted under normal conditions because the voting took place on September 11th. I, too, was glued to the television set that day watching the smoke billow out of the upper floors of the World Trade Center towers in New York City prior to their collapse.

At any rate, a decision had to be made in the three days between the Independence Party state convention and the filing deadline on Tuesday, July 16th. With time running out, I drove to the Secretary of State’s office in the Minnesota State Office Building in St. Paul. I filled out a short application form, wrote a check for $400, and officially became a candidate for U.S. Senate.

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