Klobuchar coasts to Senate win
Once again, Minnesotans
will sit on both sides of the aisle
By Patrick Condon
MINNEAPOLIS — Democrat Amy Klobuchar sailed to an easy victory in the U.S. Senate race Tuesday, capitalizing on voter anger over the Iraq war to become Minnesota’s first elected female senator.
Klobuchar, the elected prosecutor of Hennepin County, kept an important post in Democratic hands by beating Mark Kennedy, a three-term Republican congressman from west of the Twin Cities.
"Today you had the chance to raise your voice for change, and you did it," Klobuchar told supporters at the DFL election night gathering in St. Paul. She cast the outcome as a show of support for, in her words, affordable health care, better college tuition rates, homegrown energy, a balanced budget and a change of course in Iraq.
In his concession speech, Kennedy said a strong political wind was blowing against Republicans.
"I think it’s been one of those windy days," Kennedy said. "We did everything we could."
Klobuchar was the first Democrat to enter the race after the unexpected retirement of her fellow Democrat, Sen. Mark Dayton. Her energetic campaign and formidable fundraising chased three other prominent Democrats out of the race before the primary, leaving her room to fire away for months on Kennedy’s support for Bush administration policies and ties to congressional leadership in Washington.
Kennedy’s loss sidetracks the political career of a one-time rising star who months ago was seen as his party’s best chance to pick up a Senate seat. With her win, Klobuchar becomes the first woman that Minnesotans have elected U.S. senator. Muriel Humphrey, the widow of Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was appointed to finish his final Senate term after his death in 1978, serving 11 months.
Voters indicated Kennedy’s vocal support of a continued strong U.S. military presence in Iraq likely cost him support. Exit polling found that more than two-thirds of Senate voters said the Iraq war was very or extremely important, and that just under two-thirds said they disapproved of the conflict.
"We should’ve never been in Iraq in the first place," said Jim Robinson, a nonprofit program director from Circle Pines.
Mark Gobran, 43, a banker from Lino Lakes, said he was disenchanted with both the war and the direction of Congress. Klobuchar and Democrats worked throughout the campaign to weigh down Kennedy for being an incumbent Republican congressman.
"I don’t agree with what’s been happening in Congress over the last eight years or so," said Gobran, who identified himself as a Democratic-leaning independent. "The war in Iraq is probably 85 percent of the issue."
The exit polling showed Klobuchar performed well all over the state, winning the Democratic strongholds of Minneapolis/St. Paul and the Iron Range as well as the battleground suburbs. She ran even with Kennedy in more Republican-leaning areas of rural western Minnesota.
Klobuchar was supported by a large majority of self-identified moderates and independents. She appeared headed for a victory of historic proportions, with a shot at the biggest winning margin of any U.S. Senate candidate since Democrat Hubert Humphrey got 68 percent of the vote in 1976. Republican Dave Durenberger was elected in 1978 with 62 percent.
"Together with a Minnesota moral compass to guide us and the optimism of the people of our state to inspire us, we will bring a new direction of change to Washington," Klobuchar said in her victory speech.
After his unexpected 2000 victory, Kennedy increased his stature among Republican activists when redistricting switched him to a mostly new group of voters. He won two successive elections with a solidly conservative message that emphasized his support for the Bush administration’s efforts against terrorism and in Iraq.
Klobuchar, 46, relentlessly linked him to President Bush and Republican Party leadership at a time when voters were turning against the Iraq war.