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Convention to whittle 6th District candidate field

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Patty Wetterling greets supporters
Patty Wetterling greets supporters at a recent Minnesota Women's Campaign Fund event.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

At a recent Minnesota Women's Campaign Fund event in Minneapolis, Patty Wetterling moved methodically through the crowded room, shaking hands and talking politics.

Wetterling is a more experienced and confident congressional candidate this year. In 2004, the political novice ran and lost in the 6th District to incumbent U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy. She came within 8 percent. Wetterling says she's learned a lot over the last two years.   

"I know about the people, I know the district, I know the issues, I know the process, and I know more about myself, and it's fun," Wetterling said. "It is fun. I've been getting out meeting with people as much as possible. I think it's going well."

Name recognition isn't an issue for Wetterling. She's been a familiar face in Minnesota for 16 years. A masked man abducted her 11-year-old son, Jacob, in 1989 from a road near their St. Joseph home. He's never been found. The crime thrust Wetterling into the media spotlight and into a new role as an advocate for child safety.

Elwyn Tinklenberg
Elwyn Tinklenberg is a DFLer running for Congress in the 6th District.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

"I'm always going to be proud of being Jacob's mom," Wetterling said. "And I will always have that side of me. But people need to know more."

Wetterling highlights her work with law enforcement officials throughout the country on public safety issues. She's particularly proud of her work at the federal level on crime prevention programs. 

"I was watching CSI the other night and there was a missing person," Wetterling recalled. "and one of the first things they say is 'did you check the sex offender registry?' And it's like, 'I did that.' That law is named after Jacob. It's now part of our mainstream media." 

Earlier this year Wetterling was a candidate for the U.S. Senate. But she decided in February to switch to the congressional race. Elwyn Tinklenberg, who was already in the race as a DFL candidate, says he had been assured by Wetterling that she was not going to run. Tinklenberg has put the episode behind him.

"That's her prerogative," Tinklenberg said. "Whatever disappointment we may feel is irrelevant."

Tinklenberg was the mayor of Blaine. He's also a former minister who served as state transportation commissioner under Gov. Jesse Ventura. Tinklenberg says he and Wetterling differ in approach on some issues. Most notably, Tinklenberg opposes legal abortion even though he says he wouldn't push to overturn Roe v. Wade. Wetterling supports legalized abortion. Otherwise, Tinklenberg says they generally share a similar ideology.

"Everybody knows about the mess in Iraq and that we have to be moving in a different direction there," Tinklenberg said. "But there are also those bread and butter issues, those kitchen table issues about having a good job, about being able to afford send our kids to school, about retirement security, about health care and being able to afford health care for ourselves and being able to care for our parents."

But Tinklenberg says those mainstream Democratic issues can't be addressed unless a Democrat wins in November. In his pitch to delegates Tinklenberg is stressing his experience as well as his electability in a conservative-leaning district.

"This is really about who can put together the best campaign and who can pull together the broad coalition of voters, including Democrats and Independents and even some of the disgruntled right, and get them voting together with us to create a majority in the fall," Tinklenberg said.

Both Tinklenberg and Wetterling say they'll abide by the party endorsement. The DFL candidate will face state Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, who won the Republican endorsement in the 6th District last weekend. John Binkowski of St. Mary's Point is also in the race as the Independence Party candidate.