Minor party candidates for U.S. Senate offer voters an optionby Julie Siple, Minnesota Public Radio
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, Democrat Al Franken and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley aren't the only candidates for running for U.S. Senate. In November, voters will see two additional names on the ballot -- Charles Aldrich and James Niemackl.
St. Paul, Minn. — Most candidates for U.S. Senate can talk to Minnesota voters through widespread television advertisements. Candidates who can't afford ads, however, have a harder time reaching the masses.
Charles Aldrich is the Libertarian Party candidate. On a Saturday afternoon, he's wandering around Gaylord, Minn., flagging down voters one at a time.
Aldrich, 51, is a former Marine with three grown children. He lives in Alden, Minn., and is trained as an engineer. He is also, in his own assessment, one of the best square dancers in Minnesota.
Aldrich says he's running because incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman has made life harder for ordinary people, people like him. As he sees it, Minnesotans need a candidate who will drive a rusty Honda around the state and listen.
One thing he's hearing: People want cheaper gas. That's why his top priority is to drill for oil in the U.S.
As a Libertarian, Aldrich also wants smaller government. He would stop taxes and fees on renewable energy for five years, and put education in the hands of the states. He opposes the $700 billion rescue package recently passed by Congress, saying that the free market will fix itself.
"The government does not need to be involved," Aldrich said. "They should not bail out these companies that are going under. When the government decides to interfere, what's going to happen is, instead of two years of hardship time, we're going to have 20 years of hardship time."
Aldrich also wants to prohibit homeowners from getting adjustable rate mortgages, arguing that many families just aren't prepared to pay when the rates goes up.
Aldrich has never held political office, and this is his first time on the ballot for U.S. Senate.
While Coleman and Franken have raised millions of dollars, Aldrich has brought in exactly $20. He has only one staff member, a campaign manager who usually stays home. Each weekend, Aldrich spends about $300 of his own money to get out and talk to voters.
James Niemackl knows the feeling. Niemackl is the Constitution Party candidate for U.S. Senate.
On a Tuesday evening, he's at an event sponsored by the League of Women Voters. The evening is like speed dating for little-known candidates; they sit and talk one on one with a voter until a bell rings, and everyone switches partners. But not even the moderator recognizes his name.
Niemackl is 30 years old, just old enough to run for Senate. He's single, grew up in Richfield, and is a detective in the Hopkins Police Department. He's juggling a campaign around that full-time job; during the event, he ducks out to take a call from the office about an armed robbery case.
Niemackl is a first-time candidate. He says the major parties are not doing enough to protect Constitutional rights -- among them, the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizures.
"We have had over 200 years of history in which people have fought and died for those Constitutional rights, to preserve those rights," Niemackl said. "They have been bought and paid for with the lives and the blood of the people who have come before us. And they're something worth fighting and dying for."
Niemackl also wants to end the war in Iraq, while making every effort to assure stability in that country. He wants to make abortion illegal. Like Aldrich, he opposes the $700 billion financial rescue plan.
"The bailout plan does not address the causes of our economic crisis," he said. "But it's also putting the taxpayers on the hook for something that investors, many of them foreign investors, have gotten themselves involved in through bad practice."
In Congress, Niemackl says he would push to put the the dollar back on the gold standard.
Despite some policy differences, Niemackl and Aldrich share a willingness to give up their nights and weekends to run against candidates who are much more likely than they are to win.
They know their chances are slim. However, both are also hoping for a smaller success. If they can get 5 percent of the vote, and a vote from each Minnesota county, their party would gain major party status in Minnesota.
Then maybe, it would be a little easier to get their message out next time.
- Morning Edition, 10/13/2008, 6:20 a.m.