Kennedy gets Republican nod for U.S. Senate

Kennedy accepts
U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy accepted the Republican Party endorsement for the U.S. Senate race at the state party convention Thursday night.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Kennedy's endorsement went pretty much as expected. The only hitch was a long vote-counting process that pushed back his victory speech until 10:30 p.m. -- too late for the evening news, and even too late for many of the delegates. They left the Minneapolis Convention Center before Kennedy gave his remarks.

When Kennedy took the stage, he told the crowd of partisan Republicans they would finally have a Sen. Kennedy they'd be proud of -- an obvious dig at Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Democrat.

"Hearing all of that applause and that introduction, all I could think of was I bet they never thought they'd be cheering for a Kennedy running for the U.S. Senate," said Kennedy.

Challenger Harold Shudlick
Harold Shudlick, Kennedy's sole opponent for the endorsement, said Kennedy's closeness to President Bush could be a liability in the general election. "For the last six years, he has been hiding behind a Bush," Shudlick said.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Kennedy's 20-minute speech touched on a broad number of themes. He said the United States military should stay the course in Iraq. He supports low taxes because he believes it builds a stronger economy. He also said he wants to deliver low-cost, high-quality health care, without giving specifics.

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Kennedy also said he'd be a politician who can change Washington. He said his business experience as an accountant would help balance the budget and control the deficit.

Kennedy also touched on a theme that many Republicans have been using nationwide to boost GOP turnout at the polls -- the possible move to impeach President Bush if Democrats take control of Congress.

"It's certainly not the right kind of change, to launch more politicized investigations and partisan impeachment proceedings. Haven't we had enough of that already?" said Kennedy. "It's about time to have the type of change that will bring back common sense solutions that reflect our Minnesota values."

Kennedy has been in Congress since 2001 -- leading many Democrats, and even one Republican, to question if he can deliver the change he's promising.

It's about time to have the type of change that will bring back common sense solutions that reflect our Minnesota values.

"People are tired of Republicans running to the left in order to win elections," said Harold Shudlick, Kennedy's only opponent for the GOP endorsement.

Shudlick, a former Lutheran minister, said Kennedy has been hiding behind President Bush for the past six years. He told a somewhat hostile audience that Kennedy isn't the right pick for the party.

"He's been sleeping at the switch. What has he been doing until now? A Kennedy can't be part of the solution if he's a part of the problem," said Shudlick.

Kennedy can expect to hear many of the same challenges from Democrats - especially because he has a voting record closely aligned with President Bush's policies. Even Republicans are acutely aware of the president's approval ratings, and the impact they might have on Republican candidates.

Republican delegate Don Bellfield of Minneapolis said the president's low approval rating has an effect on morale among Republican activists. But he says there's plenty of time before the November election to reverse the president's sagging poll numbers.

"Hopefully over time, as this campaign goes on -- and I think President Bush will be here one or two more times for Kennedy and his Senate campaign -- hopefully Minnesotans will see a different Bush, and like Rep. Kennedy also."

Many delegates say Kennedy will do just fine as long as he sticks to his conservative principles. Larry Tate of Rogers says Kennedy should focus on cutting the budget, keeping taxes low and cracking down on illegal immigration. His advice is to stay away from the perceived culture of Washington.

"Stay conservative, stay to the right, and not cave if he gets into the Senate," said Tate. "Not get into any of the cliques out there in Washington, and make us proud for giving him the endorsement."

Kennedy's endorsement kicks off what is expected to be an expensive and fierce battle for Minnesota's U.S. Senate seat. It's one of a few open Senate seats across the country -- and both Republicans and Democrats believe the seat is essential to controlling the Senate.

Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar and veterinarian Ford Bell are seeking the DFL nomination.