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Gutknecht, Walz poised for weekend of barnstorming in the regio

By Edward Felker

Washington Bureau

ROCHESTER — The white-hot congressional race between incumbent Rep. Gil Gutknecht, Republican from Rochester, and Democrat Tim Walz of Mankato entered the final weekend with the candidates set to barnstorm the sprawling 1st Congressional District through Monday.

Today they were to tour the district with their Senate counterparts: Gutknecht with GOP Sen. Norm Coleman, who is not up for election, and Walz with Democratic candidate Amy Klobuchar, who is running against Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Watertown, for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton.

Gutknecht was to tour the district by bus through Monday, his campaign manager Bryan Anderson said. Walz was to do much the same, though without the bus, and planned to spend Sunday making stops with radio host and satirist Al Franken, said campaign manager Meredith Salsbery.

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Sunday will mark the second celebrity campaign event in four days for Walz, who enjoyed stage time Thursday with celebrated Minnesotan and radio host Garrison Keillor and singer Martin Zellar for a DFL candidate rally at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester.

Keillor was the clear draw for about 300 party faithful and others who jammed into the Rochester Art Center. He endorsed Walz and called for an end to the Republican dominance of Congress in Washington.

Keillor limited his criticism of Gutknecht to his support for the war in Iraq, at least until this summer, when Gutknecht returned from an official visit and questioned the lack of progress toward a stable democratic nation.

Keillor said he has met Gutknecht and is someone he personally likes but said voters should remember his support for the war before this summer. "He has made a terrible, terrible choice, and only in the last few months, facing the fact that he would be facing a disgusted electorate, he has begun to have qualms about his war. It is too late. You must be held responsible for what you have done."

Keillor, who held a fundraiser for Walz at his St. Paul home this summer, said later he was impressed early on with Walz’s determination to mount a credible campaign. "I wanted people to know he was not a token candidate, that he was out there working for it," Keillor said.

Brad Finseth, 53, of Rochester, whose son is in the Army and recently returned from Iraq, said he liked Walz because of his military background in the National Guard. Finseth said Walz has a chance to win in what has long been considered Republican territory, due to his opposition to the war. "People are getting sick and tired of the whole thing," he said.

Gutknecht spent the day making appearances with U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vice President Doug Loon. The chamber has endorsed Gutknecht, and on Thursday the Gutknecht campaign circulated a letter from Nebraska Chamber of Commerce President Barry L. Kennedy that challenged Walz’ claim that he won a 1993 award from the Nebraska chamber.

Walz amended his Internet site to note the award was from the Nebraska Junior Chamber of Commerce, also known as the Jaycees, and Salsbery characterized the flap as a "typographical error." Kennedy said in an interview that he had not spoken with Walz before sending the letter.

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Both campaigns continued to flood the airwaves with paid advertising. Gutknecht this week unveiled an ad in which he points to a 2001 award from the National Guard Association of the United States, the Charles Dick Medal of Merit, as proof of his support for veterans and soldiers, counter to criticism of him by Walz.

Gutknecht says the award is from the National Guard and that it is the highest award that can be given to an elected official, but those claims are not completely accurate. The award is not from the guard but from the association, a private nonpartisan organization of 45,000 current and former guardsmen, and the award is given to elected officials and typically a handful a year are so honored, a spokesman said Thursday.

The association’s highest accolade is the Harry S. Truman award, given to one individual annually. The 2006 winner was Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who stands to become the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee if Democrats win a majority in the House on Tuesday.

Gutknecht unveiled another ad Thursday, a stark black-and-white 30-second spot called "Coming At You," which contends Walz supports higher taxes and amnesty for illegal immigrants, amounting to a total cost to taxpayers of $50 billion. "Tim Walz. Expensive," concludes the ad.

Walz was to roll out his final ad Thursday. It was not available for review, but Salsbery called it a positive spot that featured his family and a call for change in Washington.

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