Saturday, October 4, 2008

Could Dean Barkley return to the Senate?

One of the most vicious Senate fights in the country is in Minnesota, where Republican Norm Coleman is running for re-election. If you'll remember, Coleman was elected because his opponent, the late great Paul Wellstone, died late in the campaign. Walter Mondale was rushed in his place as the Democratic nominee, but to no end.

Now, Coleman is looking to earn his seat against a living, breathing opponent, jokester Al Franken. Of course, a liberal Jew who worked in Hollywood, used drugs, and made distasteful jokes may have trouble in Minnesota, so things are essentially tied. Tied as in low-40s to low-40s, depending on which poll you read.

The polls are so low largely because of a third-party candidate, Senator Dean Barkley of the Independence Party, a breakaway faction of Perot's Reform Party. Barkley actually gets to use the title (as he does in his website address because he was appointed to the office to fill out the remainder of Wellstone's term by governor Jesse Ventura. So naturally, people may wonder if Minnesotans were crazy enough to elect Ventura, why not Barkley?

Well, Barkley is running on familiar stances, a pox on both houses kind of thing. On issues, he's (like Ventura and his mentor, Perot) anti-bailout, hawkish on the deficit, pro-gun, pro-gay marriage, pro-withdrawal from Iraq, pro-clean money, pro-free market health care. Pretty much a libertarian approach.

Oddly enough, Barkley hasn't garnered much attention on the blogs or news that I could find. The venerable Senate Guru has little to say, and MN Campaign Report is similarly quiet. But there are reasons, I believe, that this bears watching:

  • Minnesotans have elected one libertarian type before and liked him while in office why not again? Oh, and the guy is appearing in Barkley's ads.
  • His poll numbers have been slowly but consistently rising since he got into the race. Considering that he started in July, he's already having quite an impact. In a recent poll, Barkley hit 19% -- already half of Ventura's total when he was elected.
  • Minnesotan Democrats haven't exactly united behind Franken. Popular attorney Mike Ciresi ran a bitter race against Franken before dropping out shortly before the primary.
  • Minnesota is a swing state in McCain's sights. Combined with a heated battle for Senate, we can expect the Republicans to get unimaginably dirty in that state. I think this dynamic frustrates and angers voters, and makes them more open to voting for an independent as the GOP tries to drag Democrats into the muck with them. He's doing a great job of using that angle in his campaign.
  • A good appearance in Sunday's debate can help Barkley gain exposure against two much better funded candidates.
  • Barkley is no stranger to campaigns, having run for Senate twice, served in the Senate briefly as mentioned, and for the US House. He also managed Ventura's winning campaign for Senate.

Of course, this guy was earlier this year driving a bus for a living -- we're not talking an experienced hand. He doesn't have any real party infrastructure, nor even Ventura's high profile before entering the race. But he does know campaigning as a Minnesotan third-party candidate at a time when dissatisfied Democrats and fiscal conservatives just might say "the hell with both of you" and put this guy in the Senate.

Which would be interesting, to say the least.

No comments: