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Still no gubernatorial candidate for Independence Party

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Jesse Ventura
In this file photo, then-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura gestures during a luncheon address at the National Press Club in Washington on Feb. 22, 1999.

Republican and DFL candidates for governor have already spent months traveling the state, building support and raising money. But so far the state's third major party -- the Independence Party -- has been unsuccessful in recruiting candidates to enter the race.

With the election still more than a year away, IP officials say there's still plenty of time, and they're promising that a strong candidate will step forward early next year. 

Jack Uldrich insists he's not bothered by all the media attention DFL and GOP gubernatorial candidates have been getting in recent weeks. As chairman of the Independence Party of Minnesota, Uldrich is busy looking for his own candidates to run in 2010. But he said it's still early.

"The Republicans are going to beat themselves up," Uldrich said. "The Democrats are going to beat themselves up. If anything, there's an inherent advantage to the Independence Party candidate keeping his or her powder dry, and then making a bigger announcement in 2010."

Uldrich said there are two leading candidates for the Independence Party endorsement, but he won't name names. He said neither person is ready to go public, and Ulrich will only say that both have government experience and are currently working in the private sector. 

"I think this is a critical election to figure out, what is the role of the Independence Party."

Uldrich said he called former Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad about running as an independent, but Ramstad never called back. He also approached two well-known business leaders without success. But Uldrich said he thinks the party will have a candidate that Ramstad and other moderates could support.

"The climate right now is changing dramatically, and there are a lot of people, sort of elder statesmen, who look at the state of politics and just say this can't continue, and we need a new approach," he said. "And the Independence Party and an independent candidate can provide that."

Uldrich is hoping for a repeat of 1998, when Jesse Ventura ran for governor as an independent and won with 37 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Ventura ran under the Reform Party banner, a precursor to the Independence Party of Minnesota.

Subsequent IP gubernatorial candidates haven't  done as well. Tim Penny took 16 percent of the vote in 2002 and Peter Hutchinson had just 6 percent in 2006.

Hutchinson, who now heads up the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation, said the IP needs a candidate who is a true independent with a proven, professional track record. Hutchinson said someone who hasn't been in government, unlike the DFLers and Republicans, would make an appealing candidate.

"Some people say it has to be a business person. I'm not convinced about that," Hutchinson said. "I think there are very successful people in the faith community and in the education community and the nonprofit community who could say, 'I've done it. I've been on the ground. I've done the real work.' 

"I think that's the kind of person that the IP needs to offer. Because if you look at the folks that are already out moving around, they've made electoral politics a career," Hutchinson said.

Party officials are dealing with more than a candidate search. IP delegates will meet next month to consider changing the party's policy against accepting special interest money. The discussion follows the recent elimination of a state tax refund for political contributions.

University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said special interest money could erode the IP's distinctiveness as well as its following. Jacobs said 2010 will be a critical year for the IP.

"Since 1998, when Jesse Ventura won, the Independence Party has not had electoral success," Jacobs said. "I think this is a critical election to figure out -- what is the role of the Independence Party? Is it kind of a protest vote party? Or is there a governing philosophy with some sort of potential to actually bring into practice?" 

Jacobs said the IP needs a candidate with high name recognition who can then convince voters that the DFL and GOP candidates are too extreme.

As party officials quietly continue their search, one unrecruited independent has stepped forward. Rahn Workcuff of Minneapolis filed paperwork earlier this month as an IP candidate for governor. Workcuff has run previously for the Legislature, school board and soil and water board.