Bills and Klobuchar: Unknown vs. popular leaderSTACY, Minn. — Amy Klobuchar’s voice rose as she delivered an impassioned plea — especially to high school girls — to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math.
By: Don Davis, The Republican Eagle
STACY, Minn. — Amy Klobuchar’s voice rose as she delivered an impassioned plea — especially to high school girls — to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math.
“We have to invent things again,” she declared. “We have to make things again.”
As an example of Minnesota’s needs, Agco in Jackson cannot find enough welders to build Massey Ferguson and Challenger farm tractors, she told a group gathered to celebrate National Manufacturers’ Day at Wyoming Machine, just north of the Twin Cities.
After her speech, Minnesota’s senior U.S. senator chatted with high school girls, and a few boys, about prospects in what normally are not jobs girls investigate.
The 52-year-old Democrat sounded all the world like a saleswoman trying to recruit job candidates.
Being a saleswoman may not be what she expected when elected senator six years ago, after two terms as Hennepin County attorney, but she said that is part of the job.
“You have an obligation as a senator to point out where America has jobs,” she said.
“We’re trying to work with high schools all around the state,” Klobuchar said, with one goal of getting students interested in attending two-year colleges.
“Not every senator can say this,” Klobuchar said in an interview. “My dad went to a two-year college, Vermilion, and my sister went to a two-year college in Iowa.”
Both went on to four-year schools, and her father became a well-known Minnesota sports columnist.
Klobuchar went into her re-election race with polls showing her as the state’s most popular politician and with plenty of money in the bank.
In campaign stops, she says little about Republican challenger Kurt Bills. Instead, she discusses things she has done in her tenure to help Minnesotans.
Bills criticizes her for not being a leader, but she counters by saying she works with senators from both parties and gets things done. What some might consider minor issues — like outlawing a dangerous type of swimming pool drain — affect many Americans, she said.
For instance, a family adopted eight Filipino children from one family, but federal law did not allow adoption of a 16-year-old brother.
“We realized that was happening all over the place,” she said.
She helped change the law.
Bills complains that Klobuchar talks about working with Republicans for bipartisan solutions, but 94 percent of the time she votes with Democrats.
Longtime Democratic activist Wy Spano, director of the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership program, said most congressional votes are lopsided by party, so such a high percentage is common.
“My mission since I have gotten there is to find common ground,” Klobuchar said.
While Spano said “that’s just who she is,” it helps her in politics. Spano said no big-name Republican wanted to take her on this year.
Klobuchar is in demand as a speaker around the country and other Democrats ask her to campaign for them.
At a recent event for Senate hopeful U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin in Hudson, Wis., Klobuchar refused to say how many states she has visited during the campaign, but said she helps her friends.
Her travelling only stokes the flames of what some see as a possible future presidential campaign. Major political publications have tossed around her name, including calling her one of the women most likely to run for president.
Klobuchar will not directly talk about any presidential dreams, including in 2016, and left the door open a bit when asked if she would pledge to serve out her six-year Senate term if re-elected: “Yeah, that is what I am planning on doing.”
She said Minnesota has had a lot of senators in recent years and it is time for one to stay in office for a while.
Experience with federal rules forms Bills' message
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Federal government requirements on a home day care center his wife runs illustrate why Kurt Bills wants to be a U.S. senator.
Bills and his wife, Cindy, spend 80 hours preparing their income tax returns.
“Simply put, it takes too long,” Bills said. “You have to simplify the tax code so people can run small- and medium-sized businesses.”
The federal government mandates too much from small businesses and citizens, the Republican added, singling out one of those requirements: “We now have to throw away all of our cribs that were manufactured before June of 2011.”
That cost of more than $1,000 illustrates a bigger issue to Bills. “I know this sounds like a very simple, little thing, but this is indicative of what is happening all over the country.”
Such comments likely are heard in a lot of Minnesota homes, and supporters say they would be well accepted, but Bills is not well known in those homes.
Minnesota House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said he is confident Republicans will support Bills, who won the party’s endorsement thanks to the libertarian Ron Paul wing of the party. Others would support him, too, Dean said, if they could hear him.
But the underfunded Bills campaign has not been able to reach out. The Republican served one term on the Rosemount City Council and is wrapping up his only term in the state House as he runs for the $174,000-a-year six-year Senate job against Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Bills, 42, grew up in south-central Wisconsin and said as a boy on Friday nights he would wait at home staring at the citizens’ band radio, waiting for his father to radio in that he was returning from working far away.
When he was in school, he said, the family heated the house with firewood.
Bills faced tough financial times growing up, and that has not changed as a statewide candidate.
Klobuchar, who polls show to be the most popular Minnesota politician, enjoyed a $4.8 million bank balance in the last pre-election financial report. Bills, who polls show as much as 30 points behind, reported $68,000 on hand.
“We have been climbing the ladder and that is what we will continue to do,” Bills said during an interview in his sparse Bloomington campaign office.
“Anyone who took on Amy Klobuchar this year took on an uphill battle,” Dean said.
Bills’ campaign has attacked the media for not asking Klobuchar tough questions. But, he said, voters should not rely on the media to decide on a candidate.
“Don’t you have to have some kind of faith that they will investigate?” he asked about voters. “Heaven forbid that people might actually have to go out and do some investigation about people who are running.”
Taking on both Democrats and Republicans, he said the government gridlock Americans see is not between spending more or spending less. “We seem to find ways to spend more.”
Talking to 14 Republicans at a Minnetonka senior citizens apartment complex recently, Bills opened with a common line about students in his Rosemount High School economics class: “They were seeing an incredible deficit of leadership.”
If he somehow can make it past the obstacles in a Democratic-leaning state, Bills said he would become an instant leader.
“I walk through the doors of the United States Senate from Minnesota and I’m a Republican who just came from 30 points down to beat somebody with all the political power, all the political infrastructure, all the money in a blue state,” Bills said. “I believe at that point, more Democrats will listen. Otherwise, in two years, I will be in your state campaigning.”
Republicans would pay attention, too, he said.
Such upset wins seldom happen, he admitted. “This would be a fairly unique election.”