Developer Jumps Into Minnesota Senate Race

Posted May 16, 2005 at 6:30pm

A wealthy real estate developer has entered the Democratic hunt in Minnesota for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Mark Dayton (D).

Kelly Doran, a political novice, said he is willing to spend at least as much as Dayton did in 2000 to win the primary but was not willing to commit to spending the almost $12 million that the department store heir laid out in 2000 to unseat then-Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.).

He also said he intends to run in the September 2006 primary, regardless of whom, or whether, the state Democratic Party endorses at its convention next spring.

“We’ll put in money along the way as needed,” Doran said, adding that he hopes to raise significant funds as well.

Dayton spent $5.2 million on the 2000 primary.

Questions of whether Doran would trigger the so-called millionaire’s amendment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act have already begun.

Doran, president of the Robert Muir Co., a commercial real estate developer in the Twin Cities, will run as a moderate, fiscally conservative Democrat.

He joins a field that already includes Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, child safety advocate Patty Wetterling and philanthropist Ford Bell.

Wealthy attorney and unsuccessful 2000 Senate candidate Mike Ciresi is reportedly still mulling a bid.

Rep. Mark Kennedy has already snagged the major GOP endorsements and is expected to be the only Republican in the field.

An official in the administration of then-Gov. Jesse Ventura (I), Jack Uldrich, has said he will run under the banner of the Minnesota Independence Party.

Klobuchar and Wetterling have already raised impressive amounts of money and both have said they will abide by their party’s endorsement process, meaning neither will contest the nomination in the primary if she is not the endorsed candidate.

Doran, who plans to run an outsider campaign, would make no such pledge.

“We will go to the primary,” he said in an interview Monday — part of a daylong media and Democratic meet-and-greet swing through Washington, D.C.

Klobuchar is the apparent “establishment” candidate in the Democratic field, but the presence of another woman in the race could complicate things for her.

Wetterling, who ran an impressive House race against Kennedy last year in the conservative 6th district, has refused to step aside for Klobuchar.

“I’m running for the Senate,” Wetterling said Monday.

EMILY’s List, the organization that raises money for Democratic women candidates who support abortion rights, released a poll Monday showing Wetterling doing very well in the 6th district, which sparked rumors that the group was not-so-subtly trying to force Wetterling into the House race.

The group denied such speculation.

“The only message we’re trying to send with this poll is that it’s winnable for a Democrat,” EMILY’s List spokeswoman Ramona Oliver said. “Our goal is to send a woman to the Senate and as many as we can to the House.”

The poll, conducted March 31-April 3, showed Wetterling besting two potential Republican women candidates handily in the 6th.

EMILY’s List commissioned the Grove Insight poll, which had a 4.9 percent error margin.

Oliver said the group is doing similar polls across the country, looking for districts that potentially would elect EMILY’s List-backed candidates.

She attributed the delay in the poll’s release to internal debate about whether the polls should be made public.

Wetterling said she does not feel that anyone is trying to push her out of the Senate race and furthermore believes the poll is encouraging.

If she is running that strongly in the 6th, she said, it proves she is very competitive statewide, she said.

Democrats in Minnesota and Washington said Monday that they had never heard of Doran until news of his candidacy circulated in the past few days.

He admitted to not being a party activist but said he has always supported Democrats at the federal level and has donated some money, probably $10,000 to $15,000 over the years.

Most recently, he gave $2,000 to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), according to PoliticalMoneyLine.

He has also supported some local Republican and Independent candidates, he said.

Democratic operatives put a positive spin on Doran’s entrance.

“We have a field of very strong candidates and look forward to keeping the seat in Democratic hands,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Phil Singer.

Mike Erlandson, the outgoing state party chairman, said having a crowded field at this stage is good for Democrats.

“We’re not harmed by having a few candidates in the race at this time,” he said. “The more people traveling the state to talk about the problems in Washington because of Republican leadership … four people picking on Mark Kennedy as a pawn of the Bush administration” is a good thing, he said. “If we have all these by primary time, then maybe it’s a problem but at this stage, it’s not a problem.”

Meanwhile, Democrats say that President Bush’s sagging popularity in the Gopher State will pull Kennedy down.

“It complicates the race for a candidate like Mark Kennedy who is a conservative Republican out of the Bush mold,” Singer said of a recent Market Solutions Group poll, which showed that only 42 percent of Minnesotans approve of Bush’s job performance.

The survey of 832 people had a 3.4 percent margin of error and was conducted April 30-May 4 for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Kennedy is going to be running on a Bush agenda that is growing less popular by the day in Minnesota,” Singer said. “It will come as no surprise in a couple of months when he starts running away from Bush, but his record shows that he’s been firmly ensconced in the Bush agenda for the last four years.”

Heidi Frederickson, campaign spokesman for Kennedy, disputed those charges.

“We’re not tying ourselves to Bush in any way at all,” she said. “Mark Kennedy is a different kind of Republican — he’s very independent, he bucked the president on [drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] and No Child Left Behind — Bush isn’t going to win this race for him.”

CLARIFICATION: The May 17 article “Developer Jumps Into Minnesota Senate Race” reported that Democrat Kelly Doran was willing to spend about $5.2 million to win the September 2006 Senate primary in Minnesota. Doran said he thought that was approximately how much it would require to win the primary but he does not expect all of it to come from his own pocket.