Republicans set to endorse Kennedy for U.S. Senate

Bush and Kennedy
President George W. Bush helped Rep. Mark Kennedy, right, raise $1 million for his Senate campaign during a visit to Minneapolis in December 2005.
Photo by PAUL J.RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Nationally, Kennedy is considered the Republican Party's best chance at picking up a Senate seat currently held by Democrats. But Democrats are hoping to make Kennedy's similarity to President Bush on the issues a problem for him.

Mark Kennedy was first elected to Congress in 2000. During that time he's made some pretty powerful friends in Washington, including President Bush, who spoke at an event in Tampa Bay earlier this year.

Rep.  Mark Kennedy
Rep. Mark Kennedy announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in February 2005, just days after DFLer Mark Dayton said he would not run for re-election.
MPR file photo

"Mark Kennedy, is Mark Kennedy here with us from Minnesota? I think he was going to drop by," Bush said. "He was supposed to be here with us. You don't know him because he's from Minnesota. But I do and he's a fine guy."

Whether Kennedy likes it or not, his record and relationship with President Bush will be an issue in the campaign.

Kennedy won his first bid for Congress by upsetting DFL incumbent David Minge. That was the same year President Bush won his first term. Kennedy then survived two tough re-election battles, defeating a well-financed DFL challenger in 2002 and the widely known Patty Wetterling in 2004.

Three months after that victory, Kennedy set his sights on the Senate. In February 2005, a week after Democrat Mark Dayton announced he wouldn't run for re-election, Kennedy said he was in the race.

George Bush himself is not on the ballot this year, but Mark Kennedy is about as close as you come in the state of Minnesota to a proxy for the Bush administration.

Soon after he announced, Kennedy shook hands with supporters, mixing in his trademark laugh with his talking points on a frigid day in Stillwater.

"Thank you all for coming. I'd love to stay longer, but you probably wouldn't enjoy as much time out here," he said.

Kennedy is focusing his campaign on national security and low taxes. He voted for the war in Iraq and won't support a troop withdrawal unless the commanders on the ground call for one. He also wants to make President Bush's tax cuts permanent.

Kennedy says he's also running because he wants to bring a "common sense" approach to the Senate.

"Too often the things we try to get done, we get done in the House -- but they get stuck in the Senate," Kennedy said. "Too often there are angry words, and obstruction and petty politics that keep us from getting to the solutions that are so important to Minnesota, and that's why I'm moving forward to try and claim this seat."

Kennedy has wide support from the national leaders in the Republican Party. President Bush reportedly raised $1 million for his campaign during a one-day visit to Minneapolis last December.

Vice President Cheney and others in the administration have also raised money for him, as have three dozen Republican senators and congressmen.

Despite all of that money, Democrats, like DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez, say Kennedy will have a difficult time winning in Minnesota. Melendez says the president's low approval ratings will have an impact on Kennedy, who voted for the president's policies more than 90 percent of the time.

Amy Klobuchar
Amy Klobuchar announcing her candidacy for U.S. Senate in April 2005.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"George Bush himself is not on the ballot this year, but Mark Kennedy is about as close as you come in the state of Minnesota to a proxy for the Bush administration," Melendez said. "I believe that some of the disappointment and disgust with the Bush administration will transfer to Congressman Kennedy."

Kennedy acknowledges he often votes with the president, but says he opposes some of Bush's policies. He's parted with Bush on the education law known as No Child Left Behind and pension adjustments for Northwest Airlines employees.

Kennedy says Democrats are criticizing his voting record because they have little to run on themselves. He also suggested that Democrats who criticize him are on the fringe as well.

"What's really most amusing is -- name one difference between those who want to talk about President Bush, and where they stand with Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy," Mark Kennedy said.

There are two DFL candidates seeking their party's nomination, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar and veterinarian Ford Bell. The Kennedy campaign is clearly focusing on Klobuchar. He criticized her health care proposal as too expensive and says the Senate doesn't need another lawyer.

Klobuchar's campaign manager says he'll be watching Kennedy's endorsement speech carefully to see if he'll tout the president's accomplishments over the past six years, or if he'll try to distance himself from a president with low approval ratings.

Kennedy may have to walk that fine line throughout the campaign.