Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer is sitting on a worn couch in a large and nearly empty office in south Minneapolis. He's doing what people who are running for office spend a lot of time doing: asking for campaign money.
"This is, in some ways, the hard part of the job," he says, "calling people, introducing myself to them, and introducing them to the issues that I care about."
He is 56 years old. He was born and raised in Minnesota. He's taught peace and justice studies at the University of St. Thomas since the early 1990's. In 2006, he lost his bid for the DFL endorsement to run for Congress in Minnesota's 5th district. Nelson-Pallmeyer's campaign says it has raised $200,000 in contributions. Through September, Al Franken had taken in almost $5.2 million compared to Mike Ciresi's about $1.1 million. Another DFL candidate, Jim Cohen, raised about $36,000 through the third quarter.
Although he's a long way behind Franken and Ciresi in fundraising, Nelson-Pallmeyer is confident he'll make it to next spring's DFL state convention, where delegates are expected to choose a candidate to run against Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.
“For the DFL endorsement process, you don't need millions of dollars.”Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer
"For the DFL endorsement process, you don't need millions of dollars," Nelson-Pallmeyer says. "I'm going to need hundreds of thousands of dollars and I'm going to need to continue raising money at the pace I am. But I'm pretty confident I'll be able to do that and run a very effective campaign. And there definitely is an opening in this race. "
An opening, Nelson-Pallmeyer says, because his positions more closely reflect what Minnesota Democrats want.
Nelson-Pallmeyer is calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors from Iraq. He supports nationalized single-payer health care. He would also re-direct large amounts of military spending toward creating what he calls a green economy that could wean the U.S. off its dependence of foreign sources of energy.
"I just say to people, look at our country as though we're in a car traveling 150 miles-per-hour headed for a cliff," Nelson-Pallmeyer says. "We have all these pop-up signs: global warming, increased class sizes, bridges collapsing, $800 billion a year trade deficits; all of these things telling us we're heading over a cliff. And I think many politicians are offering a solution of 'how do we slow this down to 100 miles-per-hour?' Well, we're still going over the cliff, and what I'm offering is that we get on a different pathway."
Nelson-Pallmeyer is not a household name in Minnesota, but he says he is known among many DFL activists for his work on poverty and anti-war issues.
Minnesota State University Mankato Political Science Professor Joseph Kunkel says Nelson-Pallmeyer's fund raising success demonstrates he's capable of running a serious endorsement campaign. Kunkel says Nelson-Pallmeyer is more liberal than Franken and Ciresi, and that could resonate with DFL activists who will decide the endorsement.
"The typical moderate or conservative voter in Minnesota may be very surprised to find out there's any room left of Franken and Ciresi," Kunkel says, "but if you look at the people that go to precinct caucuses on the DFL side and are going to be at that state convention, there's going to be a number who feel that Franken or Ciresi are really not pure enough so that gives somewhat of an opening to someone like Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer."
Moorhead State University political science professor Barbara Headrick says Nelson-Pallemeyer's far left positions on the issues make it difficult for him to attract broad support. But Headrick says that doesn't mean Nelson-Pallemeyer could not play a potentially powerful role at next June's convention.
"The only way I can see him actually being a factor at the state convention if he becomes somehow a broker," says Headrick. "If Franken and Ciresi are really tight who he asks his supporters to back may become important then."
Political scientists also say Nelson-Pallmeyer 's presence in the race could force Franken and Ciresi farther to the left on issues like Iraq.