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Klobuchar gets DFL convention off to rousing start

ROCHESTER -- Amy Klobuchar talked change in Washington as Minnesota Democrats endorsed her for U.S. Senate.

First, however, she must set aside veterinarian Ford Bell, who skipped the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party endorsement in favor of concentrating on the Sept. 12 primary. That didn't seem to bother Klobuchar, who received her endorsement during the first day of the DFL state convention in Rochester.

She said she is aiming for the Nov. 7 U.S. Senate election and U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, dismissing Bell as just another opponent.

"I have had about 10 opponents in this race," she said after delivering what Democratic observers called her most fiery speech ever. "Our entire focus has been on winning in November."

The Hennepin County attorney, the favorite going into the convention, beat back two token challengers. She received 967 votes, although 252 delegates refused to vote for an endorsement in protest that Klobuchar has not called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

Klobuchar has been in the race more than a year, but her convention speech was new, and the nearly 1,500 delegates gave it a good review.

"Are you ready for some change in Washington?" she asked cheering delegates.

Klobuchar said she would not cater to business, as she said too many do in Washington do. She specifically sought support from moderate Republicans.

Like most convention speeches, Klobuchar's was short on specifics.

She emphasized that she won't vote the way Republican President Bush, a Texan, would want. Kennedy votes Bush's way most of the time.

"When I'm your senator, I won't follow the Lone Star -- I'll follow the North Star," she said.

"Many in Washington shirk the big decisions," she added.

In a video that introduced Klobuchar, White Earth tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor praised Klobuchar.

"She has the energy, she has the knowledge, she has the compassion," Vizenor said.

The only dissent came from peace activists who, like Bell, want American troops brought home from Iraq this year. Klobuchar said that while she doesn't agree with the war, bringing them all home so soon is not prudent.

"We must bring home a significant number of our troops this year," she said.

Standing outside the Mayo Civic Center, home to the convention, Bell criticized Klobuchar.

"She hasn't taken a strong stand on the war," he said.

Charles Underwood of Minneapolis, who sought the Senate endorsement so he could speak out against the war, said not voting to endorse Klobuchar would send a statement that Minnesota Democrats oppose the war.

"I feel we all must do whatever we can to stop this awful war in Iraq," Underwood said.

Klobuchar, Hennepin County attorney since 1998, got into the Senate race soon after Dayton, also a Democrat, announced he would not run for a second six-year term.

Kennedy announced at about the same time.

State Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey, who watched Klobuchar's speech from inside the convention center, gave a preview of what she can expect from Kennedy and other Republicans: "If you like Mark Dayton, you will love Amy Klobuchar."

Dayton's public approval ratings are low.

The Senate race will be one of the most closely watched, and expensive, in the country. Republicans have targeted it in hopes they can get a seat away from Democrats in the closely divided Senate.

Klobuchar and Kennedy both have been criticized for being boring. However, Klobuchar on Friday delivered a high-energy speech that many delegates said was the best they had heard from the candidate.

As she accepted the endorsement, Klobuchar danced with her nearly 11-year-old daughter.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.