Far behind in the polls, Kurt Bills still hopes to sway votersby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
LAKEVILLE, Minn. — It was six in the morning but Kurt Bills was already awake and speaking to voters.
Shaking hands at a park and ride in Lakeville, Minn., the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate was trying to make up ground on Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is far ahead in the polls, and in campaign cash.
As commuters rushed to get on the bus to Minneapolis, Bills quickly handed them campaign literature. Some walked right by him. Others said they would vote for him. Most accepted the flyers and didn't say anything at all. Bills said it's a good way to contact suburban voters.
"We're trying to really get out the vote in Dakota County so we've been to Apple Valley, Lakeville, Burnsville, everywhere we can."
As the race for U.S. Senate in Minnesota is headed into its last weekend, Bills faces an uphill battle — one he hopes will turn on voter discontent with the fiscal mess in Washington.
A first-term state representative from Rosemount, Minn., Bills surprised many when he announced in March that he was considering a run for the Senate. A few months later, Bills won the Republican nomination after securing a key endorsement from presidential candidate Ron Paul, whose backers dominated the state Republican Party convention.
Bills won Paul's endorsement in part because he's focusing on fiscal issues like the budget and erasing the federal deficit. He's still trying to put those issues on the minds of voters in the closing days of the campaign.
"Solvency. Fiscal cliff. Gridlock. Spending, tax code carve outs. What we do instead of what we don't do," Bills said. "We haven't handled the big issues, Medicare, Social Security, the deficit, trade deficits, energy policy, but we sure will tackle the issues of doling out favors to as many people as we possibly can to increase and jack up the amount of money coming into our campaign coffers."
Bills is a high school economics teacher and that sometimes shows when he's discussing economic policy. He also continues to teach his first-period class — something he mentions repeatedly on the campaign trail.
"I think it's important to start electing people who actually are everyday people," he said. "Otherwise you keep getting people that benefit Washington but don't necessarily benefit the rest of us. It's good to stay grounded in what you do."
Forced to run an unconventional campaign because he hasn't raised much money for his race, Bills is running a shoestring campaign that relies on personal contact. Meanwhile, Amy Klobuchar can afford a month of positive ads about her campaign on television.
Lacking campaign cash, Bills relies on gatherings, like a recent brief meeting with college Republicans at the University of Minnesota. No more than 10 students attended the informal meeting — the first of several meet and greets the candidate held on college campuses that day. He encouraged students to keep working to get out the vote.
"I appreciate all of your guys' work," Bills said. "We have to keep it going. We have five more days. We just got to keep running. Don't ever lose track of how powerful your voice can be especially as young adults because of the way that you use social media and technology because it's a whole new world out there."
Some of Bills' strongest backers are young people who once sat in his classroom. Several of his former students have opted to either volunteer or work for his campaign.
"I had him back in Rosemount High School in 2006," said Sam Larson, who is helping Bills get out the vote efforts. "He's the one that really got me engaged paying attention to the economy and economics and all of that stuff. That's why I jumped on board when he announced."
Larson said he's confident Bills will win Nov. 6. If that happens, it would be a major upset. Klobuchar has a double-digit lead in opinion polls.
Bills said he hopes that working-class voters flock to him because they like his message on fixing the fiscal situation in Washington.
But with only days to go in the campaign, it's Bills who is looking, trying to shake hands with as many voters as he can.
• Follow Tom Scheck on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomscheck
- Morning Edition, 11/02/2012, 7:24 a.m.