Earlier this year, national party strategists said Minnesota's U.S. Senate race could determine which party controls the Senate. Now, a month before the election and with many polls showing Amy Klobuchar with a big lead, political handicappers aren't even mentioning Minnesota in the top five.
An official with the National Republican Senatorial Committee won't comment on campaign strategy. But documents filed at KARE-11, KSTP-TV and WCCO-TV show that the NRSC has not bought or scheduled any ad time on behalf of Kennedy.
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman acknowledges the Kennedy faces an uphill battle. Coleman said he's encouraging NRSC officials to invest in Minnesota but says they may be more concerned about other contests.
"You have a limited number of dollars and the dollars first get directed to incumbents," Coleman said. "That's the way the system works. Then you go to challengers. So in the end, are their close races out there? Absolutely. Will that have an impact across the board in terms of the funding you want from Washington? It probably will."
The NRSC does more than run tv ads on behalf of candidates. It also spends millions to ensure that key Republican supporters vote on election day.
Coleman said there's a possibility that funding may also go to other states. He gave the Minnesota Republican Party $100,000 from his own campaign fund to help get out the vote. And some worry that money is needed now more than ever.
Charlie Weaver is the executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership and previously served as chief of staff to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
“This isn't just a problem with the Kennedy campaign. This is a problem for Republicans everywhere. And because Republicans everywhere are having trouble, national Republicans are having to set new priorities for their spending."Steven Smith, political science professor at Washington Univesity in St. Louis
Weaver said Kennedy's low poll numbers, the scandal regarding Congressional pages in Washington and an unpopular war in Iraq may cause Republican voters to choose to sit out this November. Weaver said the situation may determine more than just who becomes the junior senator from Minnesota. He said other important contests, like the governor's race, could also be affected.
"There's a risk if that that Kennedy race turns out not to be close in the last few weeks that the National Republican Senatorial Committee will pull out of the state and take with them their get out the vote apparatus which would not be helpful," Weaver said. "And there's some question about whether the Republican Party is revved up and ready to turn people out."
Pawlenty's campaign spokesman declined to comment for this story.
Ron Carey, chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, said he's not convinced that the NRSC has abandoned Minnesota. Carey said the NRSC has committed to send volunteers to the state to get out the vote in the week leading up to election day.
"That to me is not a sign that the NRSC is down on Minnesota," Carey said. "We're fighting battles across the country and what you're finding is there are late minute decisions being made as to where the investment of resources is going to make the most difference or make the difference between winning and losing. Minnesota is still in the equation in that discussion."
Steven Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said in the past few elections Republicans nationwide have been more successful than Democrats in tailoring their message to voters and getting their supporters to the polls. But he said the current political climate has forced Republicans to focus on keeping control of the Senate.
Smith said that means the party will focus less time and money in Minnesota and more of their efforts on other too close to call contests.
"They're going to go spend that million dollars in Tennessee or New Jersey where they think they can tip the balance," Smith said. "This isn't just a problem with the Kennedy campaign. This is a problem for Republicans everywhere. And because Republicans everywhere are having trouble, national Republicans are having to set new priorities for their spending."
On his own, Kennedy has raised $7.6 million through August for his campaign. He said he's confident that will help him turn out the necessary votes to win.
The recent events could also play both ways for Democrats. DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez said he wants to see Amy Klobuchar win with as commanding a lead as possible but not a big enough lead that people don't think she needs help.
Both Klobuchar and Kennedy will have a chance to convince national party leaders to continue investing in this race when they debate on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday. Klobuchar, Kennedy and Independence Party member Robert Fitzgerald debate in Moorhead Monday night.