A crowd gathered around U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s Minnesota State Fair booth, cheering like at a campaign rally.
At the same time, her challenger, Kurt Bills, was not far away talking one-on-one with the few fair visitors at his booth.
The contrast showed a difference in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race. Polls indicate Democrat Klobuchar is the state’s most popular politician; Republican Bills is a relative unknown just finishing his first two-year term in the Minnesota House. Klobuchar has millions of dollars in her campaign treasury; Bills has thousands.
However, both say they are taking the campaign seriously and acted like it during Thursday’s State Fair debate that looked like it was between two combatants who think they are in a tight race, although even Bills recently said that if the election had been in late August, Klobuchar would have won.
The race looks so lopsided to one long-time Republican activist and party leader that he suggested Bills should have taken off the Labor Day weekend to consider dropping out of the race.
In an interview, Bills quickly brushed aside that suggestion. Despite its looks, he said, current national problems leave him in good shape.
“With the economy the way it is, every incumbent is terrified and should be terrified …” Bills said. “The plain fact of the matter is our national debt has doubled in the last six years, our unemployment has doubled in the last six years and my home value has been cut. …”
Other than two August debates (two more are scheduled), Klobuchar publically has all but ignored Bills.
“I continue to do a significant amount of Senate work,” she said of her $174,000-a-year job.
Her performance on Minnesota Public Radio’s fair debate did not look like someone with lots of money and a big lead. She attacked Bills hard, including pointedly saying that he never has had a bill signed into law.
“I felt it was important to make people understand where he stood and where I stand,” Klobuchar said of the reason she went after Bills.
Klobuchar also questioned his bill that would study establishing a state currency and a proposal to eliminate taxes on anything purchased with gold and silver coins.
“I thought it was really important to make people understand my record and where I want to go on the economy and my work with business in the private sector,” she added. “He sounded like that is a bad thing.”
The incumbent’s major thrust so far in this campaign has been an emphasis on working with Republicans. “His record does not support someone who works across the aisle,” she said.
Not only is Klobuchar on the attack, a well-known Republican questions Bills’ campaign.
On the eve of the fair debate, Michael Brodkorb wrote in his new blog that Bills made the wrong decision to continue teaching economics at Rosemount High School during the fall election.
Brodkorb, known for his affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and a lawsuit challenging the Senate’s decision to fire him, said running a statewide campaign demands pretty much all of a candidate’s time and teaching a class would make it tough to run a successful campaign.
“The ramifications of Bills’ decision is shocking,” Brodkorb wrote in politics.mn.
The first-term state lawmaker has taught his first-hour economics class during the past two legislative sessions, then headed to St. Paul for meetings.
In the fair interview, Bills quickly dismissed Brodkorb’s comments.
“I wouldn’t put too much stock in a guy who has made his personal choices,” Bills said. “He is fighting to still be relevant.”
Brodkorb is a former state party vice chairman, top aide in the Senate and the founder of the Minnesota Democrats Exposed blog.
He obviously did not agree with Bills’ assertion that keeping his teaching job allows him to remain a normal person, compared to the politician Klobuchar.
“U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a popular incumbent with a well-financed campaign,” Brodkorb wrote. “A candidate running against Klobuchar will have to campaign full-time, raise millions of dollars and dedicate themselves to maximizing every hour. … The decision by Bills to take himself off the campaign trail during the most important time of the campaign – even hours each day – is devastating. …”
Bills said he gets out of class at 8:20 a.m., giving him time to “go anywhere in the state” on weekdays and weekends.
Bills’ wife, Cindy, runs a home-based day care center and he said his decision to continue teaching part time “is slightly financial. … We would be a one-income family.”