- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 20, 2002

On Election Day, Minnesota's three-way gubernatorial race will decide whether voters want to continue their rebellion against the state's traditional two-party system.
The election of Gov. Jesse Ventura four years ago shocked many in Minnesota's political establishment. The former professional wrestler, who was elected on the Reform Party ticket and later switched to the Independence Party, came into power riding a wave of voter discontent with partisan wrangling.
But his no-nonsense style and hostility toward the press have alienated many voters frustrated with Mr. Ventura's inability to work with Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature on important issues.
Mr. Ventura's would-be successor, Independence Party candidate Tim Penny is well aware of the doubts that some Minnesotans have about electing a governor who is not from one of the major parties. His campaign spokesman stresses that Mr. Penny, a former Democratic congressman, will cooperate more with the Legislature.
"Mr. Penny agrees with a lot of Mr. Ventura's policies," David Ruth said. "The major difference is that of style."
Mr. Penny, 50, is a budget hawk who pledges that if elected, he will confront the state's massive deficit by slashing popular programs and raising taxes.
"Our strategy is being honest with Minnesotans," Mr. Ruth said. "We are facing a $3.2 billion budget deficit. Congressman Penny is for a gas-tax increase and a cigarette-tax increase. Everything is on the table."
He adds that Mr. Penny is willing to make substantial cuts in government spending to balance the budget, and the former congressman's message of fiscal responsibility is resonating with Minnesota voters because he is "not promising something to everybody."
Recent polls show that Mr. Penny's strategy may be working. A recent Zogby International poll of 500 likely voters, conducted Oct. 8-10, showed the race is a virtual dead heat with 30 percent saying they would vote for the Republican candidate, Tim Pawlenty, 27 percent for Mr. Penny, 25 percent selecting Democratic candidate Roger Moe and 3 percent backing Green Party candidate Ken Pentel. The remainder of respondents were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
More ominously for both Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Moe, a recent poll by the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper showed that although only 8 percent of Minnesota voters identify themselves as independent, 57 percent believe the state is "better off" with "more than two strong political parties."
But Mr. Penny's opponents say that having a governor who is not from one of the major parties is a recipe for legislative gridlock.
"The question Tim Pawlenty is asking Minnesotans is how has divided government worked for you? It has left Minnesota with no direction," said Pawlenty spokesman Peter Hong. "The election of Tim Penny would leave Minnesota in neutral."
The 41-year-old Mr. Pawlenty, a Republican state representative, is the only candidate who has vowed not to raise taxes to overcome Minnesota's budget woes, Mr. Hong said.
"We are running against two Democrats, two career politicians, who have spent a lifetime in politics raising taxes," he said, adding that Mr. Pawlenty would balance the budget by cutting government waste and holding the line on public spending.
The Democratic challenger, however, believes that the U.S. Senate race will enable his campaign to win on Election Day. Mr. Moe, 58, is depending on strong Democratic voter turnout on behalf of incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone to enable the state senator to emerge victorious in the gubernatorial race.
"We are focusing on people who support Senator Paul Wellstone. These are progressives who need to be brought back into the Democratic fold," said Bill Harper, Mr. Moe's campaign manager.
Mr. Harper said that by emphasizing issues such as gun control and abortion rights, the Moe campaign is hoping to energize the state's liberal Democratic base. Mr. Moe has also called for higher gasoline and cigarette taxes, vowing to protect government programs aimed at helping the underprivileged and the elderly.
"The budget will not be balanced on the backs of children and seniors," Mr. Harper said.
Mr. Ruth said Mr. Penny needs to capture about 36 percent to 37 percent of the vote to win the election. Mr. Penny plans to eke out a victory over his rivals through a flurry of radio and television ads during the final two weeks of the campaign.
"We have been pounding the pavement, pressing flesh. Penny is spending a lot of time about 18 hours a day on the campaign trial," Mr. Ruth said.
"He is being honest about our budget problems, and voters appreciate that kind of honesty."

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