Independence Party aims for middle ground in governor's raceby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — This weekend is the Independence Party's turn to choose a candidate for governor.
Last week Republicans endorsed state Rep. Tom Emmer. The weekend before, Democrats picked House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
Independence Party leaders say Emmer and Kelliher represent the far-right and far-left ends of the political spectrum, leaving the middle wide open for them.
As many as five people could be in the running for the Independence Party's gubernatorial endorsement. A straw poll showed public relations executive Tom Horner was the favorite among IP precinct caucus goers earlier this year.
"I can only hope that people would see me following in the footsteps of a Dave Durenberger," Horner said.
Durenberger, a moderate Republican, was elected to three terms in the U.S. Senate with support from Democrats and Republicans. Durenberger is backing Horner's IP bid for governor.
Horner worked for Durenberger from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, first as his press secretary and later as his chief of staff. After returning to Minnesota Horner helped launch the public relations firm Himley Horner.
He also was a longtime Republican political commentator for Minnesota Public Radio News.
Horner says his background positions him better than any of the other IP candidates to raise money, build a winning coalition and eventually govern.
"I bring 30 years of involvement in policy and politics," Horner said. "I can build the network, the kind of campaign that it's going to take to win."
If Horner has any real competition, at least according to that IP straw poll, it's coming from Rob Hahn. He's a former radio producer who publishes two regional newspapers and also writes novels.
Speaking on Minnesota Public Radio News' Midday program, Hahn said he, not Horner, is the most electable.
"As you look back over the history of the Independence Party and before that the Reform Party, the only candidate who won the governor's office was essentially a true outsider and someone who spoke his mind: Gov. [Jesse] Ventura," Hahn said. "Since then we've seen former Democrats run, we're seeing former Republicans. Voters are true shrewd these days. They know when a Republican is masquerading as an independent."
Both Hahn and Horner say they would cut business taxes and significantly reduce the size of government. Hahn proposes increasing taxes on what he calls the "uber-rich." Horner would broaden the sales tax but reduce the rate.
Also running for the Independence Party endorsement are John Uldrich, Chris Pfeifer and Jim Koepke. All of the front runners plan to go on to a primary campaign regardless of what happens at the convention.
Party Chairman Jack Uldrich says whoever ends up on the ticket will have a great opportunity to appeal not only to independents, but also to Republicans and Democrats concerned that their party's candidate is either too conservative or too liberal.
Uldrich says he thinks for the first time in more than a decade, the IP candidate will reach a tipping point this year, becoming a serious option, not just a repository for protest votes.
"And what I mean by the tipping point is our candidate has to be seen as a viable contender, and I think that that happens around 20, 25 percent," Uldrich said. "I mean Jesse Ventura in 1998, once he crossed that threshold people then began saying he has a legitimate shot at winning and the momentum got behind him."
Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier also sees potential for the IP this fall largely because of extreme positions held by the likely DFL and Republican candidates. Schier says to win, the IP will have to take full advantage of the campaign debates.
"The debates really made Jesse Ventura governor because he was able to present himself in a way that many voters found compelling and appealing," Schier said.
But so too, Schier said, did Ventura's celebrity name recognition. He says the IP will need lots of money to make its candidate and message known.
IP delegates will take up their gubernatorial endorsement Saturday afternoon at their state convention at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.
- Morning Edition, 05/07/2010, 7:36 a.m.