When U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) announced last month that he would not be a candidate for reelection, one of the races likely to dominate the off-year contests in November 2006 blew wide open. A half-dozen Democrats are eyeing the opportunity to replace Mr. Dayton, with Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar already announcing her candidacy and failed former congressional candidate Patty Wetterling exploring hers.
On the Republican side, former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams and others are studying a race, but it is Rep. Mark Kennedy, from Minnesota's 6th District, who has the early wind behind his back with the endorsements of Sen. Norm Coleman, Rep. John Kline, and other Gopher State fundraising powers.
Mr. Kennedy is an extremely attractive candidate for the GOP. He's a devout Roman Catholic, a staunch pro-life advocate, and a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights. He's also a tough candidate who defeated an incumbent to win his first race for Congress, and then defended his seat against the deep-pocketed Wetterling in 2004. The fourth of seven children and the father of four, Mr. Kennedy is a fourth-generation Minnesotan who spent 20 years in business before entering politics. His campaign website, www.markkennedy06.com, is already up and accepting contributions, a reflection of the assessment that the race will cost each candidate at least $15 million.
The GOP has one built-in advantage in this "light blue" state-the presence on the 2006 ticket of popular Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose hockey-playing folkishness and great good humor has kept his personal account high even as the state has navigated difficult fiscal times. Mr. Pawlenty is already on every handicapper's short list for the GOP's vice-presidential slot in 2008, and has even appeared on a couple of lists of potential presidential candidates. If he can bring a new Republican senator to D.C. in January, 2007, that will only enhance his growing stature in the party.
Minnesota is a closely divided state when it comes to politics. Sen. Coleman beat former Vice President Walter Mondale by 60,000 votes in the 2002 election marked by the death of then-Sen. Paul Wellstone in a plane crash. Last fall, despite an intense GOP effort, Minnesota went for John Kerry by close to 100,000 votes. The "light blue" status of the state is real, but the right candidate in the right year can move the state closer to light red. Many are betting that that candidate in 2006 will be Mark Kennedy.