Candidates for governor share stories of hard times to connect with votersby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — As the candidates for governor ramp up their campaigns ahead of state party conventions in the next few weeks, the top issue on the minds of many voters is the slow economy.
The candidates are going beyond their policy proposals, and turning to personal stories to show they understand the voters' concern about hard times.
Most people tend to keep home foreclosures and other family struggles private. But for Democrat Matt Entenza, a family crisis has become a campaign talking point.
"When I was 15, my father was an alcoholic and he left us. He had a terrible disease. A lot of families go through that and unfortunately for us, we lost our home," Entenza said at a recent DFL candidate appearance in Rochester.
On the campaign trail, Entenza often talks about his upbringing and his family's move back into his grandmother's two-bedroom home in Worthington.
"My mom, for the next seven years had to share a bed with her mom, because we didn't have any money and it was a teeney little house," Entenza said.
In her campaign speeches, Democrat Margaret Anderson Kelliher talks about growing up during the farm crisis of the 1980s.
"Mom said we were in real danger of losing the farm, our life, our livelihood. Our parents did everything they could do. They cashed in their life insurance, their life savings, their retirement. And they were able to save this farm from foreclosure," Kelliher said in a campaign kickoff speech on the farm where she grew up near Mankato.
Kelliher said that experience helped shape who she is today. It also helps show voters that she can relate to their struggles.
Entenza and Kelliher aren't alone in talking about economic and family troubles. All the candidates for governor have been telling similar stories about confronting and overcoming hard times.
It's one way the candidates are trying to demonstrate they have the life experiences and work ethic to get Minnesota out of the economic downturn.
In fact, they go out of their way to -- as former President Bill Clinton put it -- feel their pain.
For example, Republican Marty Seifert always mentions wearing hand-me-downs when he's on the stump.
At a debate last March in Plymouth, Seifert talked about his experience weathering tough times.
"My wife and I are fairly humble people. Like I said earlier, my dad had an eighth grade education. I'm the youngest of six boys. I know what it's like to be on my hands and knees in the 90-degree heat, picking cucumbers for the Gedney pickle company," said Seifert. "I know what it's like to be in the barns, and be in the fields and to work very hard, and starting my business from scratch by taking a second mortgage out on our home."
Seifert isn't the only one who brings business into his tales of hard times. His top Republican opponent, Tom Emmer, told an audience on caucus night in Woodbury, that his life experience as the owner of a law firm is just what the state of Minnesota needs.
"I think the next governor of this state should understand firsthand how hard it is to run a business in this state. That means understanding firsthand what it's like to meet a payroll," said Emmer. "It also means having to meet a payroll when you don't get paid, as the owner of the business. I think the next governor should understand what that feels like."
Even the candidate who may have the most difficult time selling a tale of financial woe is trying to boost his working-class connections. Mark Dayton, heir to the Dayton's department store fortune, said he's seen poverty close up.
"Forty years ago, I taught at a ghetto school in New York City, and I had many kids come to school with no breakfast and 25 cents in their pockets for a french fry lunch," Dayton said at a Hunger Solutions forum in St. Paul last October. "Tragically in this country, things have gotten worse. And in this state in the last few years, things have gotten worse still."
It's unclear what the voters will make of the candidates' stories as they decide which one will make a better governor.
But those running for governor clearly believe the economy -- and which party can do a better job fixing it -- will be a key issue in this year's campaign.
- All Things Considered, 04/19/2010, 5:20 p.m.