In Minnesota campaign, it's money vs. energy

GERMOND & WITCOVER

September 23, 1990|By Jack W. Germond& Jules Witcover | Jack W. Germond& Jules Witcover,Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover are staff writers for The Evening Sun. Their column appears there Monday through Thursday.

MINNEAPOLIS — Two brief vignettes capture the rival styles in this fall's campaign between Minnesota's Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz and Democratic challenger Paul Wellstone, a 46-year-old college professor.

Senator Boschwitz, in his campaign headquarters, leads a visitor to a room where a young woman is busily tallying personal checks on an adding machine. The senator leans over her shoulder and extends the tape, indicating nearly three feet of printed figures marking the day's mail contributions.

"Look at that," he says proudly. "That's the way you win elections." He observes a moment later: "You can't go to a cafe, a bridge party, without me having some advocates there. The way to get elected is to have a lot of people out there who have made an investment. It's not just the money, it's the commitment. The money is making advocates out of these people [who contribute]." He boasts that 62,000 Minnesotans have given money to his re-election campaign -- a campaign that has raised more than $6 million.

A day later, in a neighborhood delicatessen in nearby St. Paul, Mr. Wellstone comes rushing in, at a half trot, to meet his visitor. Even before sitting down to scan the menu for lunch, he is off and running -- verbally -- about how his campaign, fueled by his energy and frenetic pace rather than money, won this month's Democratic primary and is, according to some polls, nibbling at Mr. Boschwitz's wide lead.

With the incumbent's celebrated fund-raising abilities assuring him a generous paid television campaign between now and November, the unheralded Mr. Wellstone is obliged to substitute shoe leather -- his own and that of a small army of young, zealous liberal supporters -- for dollars.

Mr. Wellstone, however, is not going to leave the airwaves entirely to Mr. Boschwitz, especially because one ad his campaign did run in the August primary is credited with being critical in his strong victory over a better-known Democrat, the state agriculture commissioner, Jim Nichols.

The ad sought, in a humorous way, to make a virtue of Mr. Wellstone's lack of funds and his frenzied style of campaigning. It showed him appearing on the screen, turning to the camera and telling the viewers that "unlike my opponent [Mr. Boschwitz], I don't have $6 million, so I'm going to have to talk fast."

Then, running from backdrop to backdrop with the tape speeded up, he introduced his wife and children, their modest home, the farm where he was raised, the school where he teaches. The ad concluded with the voice-over: "Paul Wellstone won't slow down after he's elected."

Mr. Wellstone says now that the ad provided the public recognition he lacked and that he will use an updated version this fall, depending on how much money he can raise. He says, however, that the other factor that won the primary for him, an unusually large and zealous volunteer field operation, will be equally important.

But Mr. Wellstone is running uphill against a two-term Republican who has achieved a considerable comfort level with Minnesota voters. Mr. Boschwitz's current ads are distinctly low-key, portraying him as a sort of kindly uncle or neighbor who has a special bond with Minnesotans.

The ads show him in idyllic scenes feeding children, talking with parents, farmers, senior citizens, attendees at the state fair, where he traditionally serves flavored milk to children. Each ad ends with the voice-over: "Rudy Boschwitz and the people of Minnesota -- friends."

Mr. Wellstone acknowledges that Minnesotans have a warm feeling toward Mr. Boschwitz, but he insists it's because they don't know his legislative record, which Mr. Wellstone says is ineffective and beholden to special interests that fatten his campaign coffers.

Mr. Boschwitz says one reason he was able to raise so much money was the early speculation here that former Vice President Walter F. Mondale would seek his old Senate seat. "When they thought Mondale was going to run," he says, "that really made the cash registers ring." He has been so successful raising campaign funds since then that he has begun to pitch in to help the party's gubernatorial nominee, Jon Grunseth, seeking to oust Democratic Gov. Rudy Perpich.

This fund-raising ability, plus his claim to a special affinity with Minnesotans, makes Mr. Boschwitz a heavy favorite. But Mr. Wellstone, as his ad conveyed, is a whirling dervish candidate trying to make up in hustle what he lacks in cash. It's a long-shot formula, especially in today's high-cost era of television politics.

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