Republicans say Penny is plate of waffles
By Patrick Howe
ST. PAUL -- Republican Party staffers served waffles to other Republican Party staffers Monday morning in the first genuine publicity stunt of the gubernatorial campaign.
The waffle breakfast was designed to symbolize Independence Party candidate Tim Penny's changes in position on issues such as abortion, whether to accept special interest money and gun control.
As support, party officials quoted from papers that Penny co-wrote for a Libertarian think tank as well as votes he took in Congress and as a member of the state Senate in the early 1980s.
"Even Tim Penny doesn't know where he stands on the issues anymore," said GOP Chairman Ron Eibensteiner.
The stunt came complete with its own mascot, "Waffleman," a Bethel College student dressed in a chef's hat, spatula and sandwich board with a picture of a waffle on it, who will follow Penny on the campaign trail. (The student, Jack Grassel, also followed U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone around, dressed as a cow to criticize Wellstone on dairy policy.)
Penny's campaign manager had his own prop, though. Jack Uldrich handed Waffleman a bottle of Mr. Clean dish soap and said the gimmick reflects how the Republican's candidate, Tim Pawlenty, used accounting shifts to balance the state's budget as the House majority leader.
"From Day One, we've said how you campaign is going to reflect how you govern," Uldrich said. "We'll let them continue their gimmicks, and we'll remain true to our message."
Penny voted primarily with abortion opponents in his 12 years in Congress, but when he announced his run for governor, he said he had changed his views. He's since articulated a policy consistent with abortion rights supporters.
While Penny acknowledges he has changed his views on abortion, Uldrich said the GOP attacks are off base when they criticize Penny on other issues. He said the critics have taken Penny's words or writings out of context and that other apparent contradictions reflect differences between Penny's views on federal policy and state policy.
Penny accepted political action committee money as a congressman, for example. He even defended PACs in his book "The 15 biggest lies in Congress" but is not taking any as a gubernatorial candidate, a stance the Independence Party asks of its candidates.
Uldrich said that Penny no longer finds PAC money necessary because of the state's system of partial public financing of campaigns.