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Capitol Chatter: Minnesota nice may not rule campaigns

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Minnesota's Republican governor candidates shake hands after a Farmfest forum Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. Tim Pawlenty, left, and Jeff Johnson are fighting for their party's nomination in next week's primary election. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 4
Minnesota's major governor candidates line ujp at Farmfest Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. From left are Tim Walz, Tim :Pawlenty, Lori Swanson, Jeff Johnson and Erin Murphy. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 4
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and challenger Jim Newberger shake hands after finishing a candidate forum at southwest Minnesota's Farmfest Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. Don Davis / Forum News Service4 / 4

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. — Political candidates brought their best "Minnesota nice" to Farmfest.

But voters should not get used to that.

"First time out of the chute, got to be a gentleman," state Republican Rep. Jim Newberger said after his first time on stage with opponent Democratic U.S. Sen Amy Klobuchar, seeking her third six-year term.

In a governor candidate forum, several candidates were critical about things that happened during the two terms Gov. Tim Pawlenty was in the Capitol (he wants a third term eight years after leaving state government). But despite sitting close to him, few drew the line between those events and Pawlenty.

Maybe part of the reason candidates were pretty civil was that farmers do not take to confrontation by candidates. And maybe, as U.S. Sen. Tina Smith said, the single minute they had to answer questions was better used to talk about themselves than to go on the attack.

With the Tuesday, Aug. 14, primary election nearly at hand, things are heating up a bit and Minnesotans should expect more tough or even nasty campaigning before the Nov. 6 general election.

Farmfest was a good place to gauge candidates, with four Kent Thisse-organized forums during the three day event Aug. 7, 8 and 9.

Some candidates showed less hesitation of being direct moments they stepped off the Farmfest stage and talked to reporters.

In talking about Klobuchar, Newberger did not sand off his comments: "What's said and what's done don't match."

Klobuchar said "there is a sharp difference" between her and Newberger. As the state's most popular politician, Klobuchar may not need to get aggressive against Newberger, in part because it could chip away at her long-standing theme that she can work with Republicans.

State Sen. Karin Housley, a Republican trying to remove Smith from the Senate seat vacated by Al Franken, was low-key on stage. A day after the two candidates sat in peace, Housley blasted Smith's record of senior citizen health care.

"She did nothing" for the elderly, Housley said in a "news conference" only attended by Forum News Service. Housley was talking about Smith's time in Gov. Dayton's office, first as chief of staff and then as lieutenant governor.

"She knew what was going on," the Republican said about massive backlogs of state investigations into elder care abuse. "Actions speak louder than words, and Tina is all words."

While Housley was holding her small news conference, Smith was in Duluth announcing a plan, her Senate office said, "to hold large pharmaceutical companies accountable for high prices and bring down costs for both consumers and taxpayers."

A Senate Health Committee member, Smith said the legislation would increase how much the public knows about medicine costs and stop drug maker practices that allow them to keep prices high.

Smith does not need to turn the campaign negative, at least not now, since she can use her incubamancy to get out her message.

Perhaps the most surprising lack of attacks came, or did not come, during the governor candidate forum, where Pawlenty and GOP-endorsed candidate Jeff Johnson did not follow up on aggressive television commercials.

In his first television spot, Pawlenty accused Johnson of raising taxes and spending. Johnson portrays himself as a conservative who would do neither. In fact, Johnson's website calls him "the only conservative in the race."

Campaign veterans know that negative commercials work, so more can be expected this election season, but future forums and debates pitting the party nominees against each other may end up pretty spirited, too.

Trapper gets endorsement

The Minnesota Independence Party has endorsed Bob "Old Trapper" Lessard for attorney general.

Lessard is running at a Republican. He was a northern Minnesota state senator 26 years, most of that time as a Democrat.

Lessard, who is not a lawyer, said he decided to run after sensing both a threat to "make laws not just enforce them" and a move to undo and weaken the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that he championed.

"My political beliefs are very much in line with the party," Lessared said. "Gov. Ventura and I worked closely together to accomplish our agenda when we served together."

Overheard at Farmfest

• U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer does not support allowing things like almond beverages to be called milk. "An almond is not a mammal. It should not be in the milk section."

• U.S. House hopeful Carla Nelson said she and her husband come from farm country. Their first date was attending a Farm Bureau meeting. Date No. 2? A tractor pull.

• Long-shot Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rae Hart Anderson, who often talked about Christianity during her forum appearance, said she has not read the federal farm bill. "It is longer than the Bible," then asked the audience if they had read the entire Bible.

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.
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