Call it the loneliness of the long-distance candidate.
On a snowy, below-zero night, at an American Legion in Waconia, Chris Dahlberg was 175 miles away from his home in west Duluth, trying to persuade Republican activists to endorse him as their candidate for the U.S. Senate.
He had spent Tuesday afternoon door-knocking in Victoria, extolling his credentials as an attorney, Iraq war veteran and St. Louis County commissioner and explaining why he believed Sen. Al Franken was out of touch with average Minnesotans.
“This is one of the colder days, but I’m dressed warm. I’ve got military long underwear on,” said Dahlberg, who’s competing against three metro-area Senate candidates. “We’re calling it the blizzard tour.”
It’s the brand of retail politics that a candidate must practice to emerge from the precinct caucuses Feb. 4 as a contender. It’s particularly a necessity for Dahlberg, who has little name recognition, minimal campaign money and a political base in the heart of DFL-dominated west side of Duluth.
On Tuesday, both he and Sen. Julianne Ortman, another U.S. Senate candidate, met with Senate District 47’s BPOU (basic political organizing district) in Waconia. Ortman, who is serving her fourth term, represents the district.
Afterward, Dahlberg packed up his change of clothes in a cardboard box and headed home for a few hours’ sleep.
The next day, he set out again for “meet-and-greets” in Moorhead, Alexandria and Virginia. That was to be followed by visits to Grand Rapids, Bemidji, Crookston and East Grand Forks and then on to Thief River Falls to participate in a Saturday candidate forum.
“You have to know the issues,” Dahlberg said. He believes that health care and education should be decided by the states, that the attack in Benghazi deserves a retooling of diplomatic security and that the U.S. should re-examine its role in Afghanistan and the China seas.
“But you also have to be in touch with the people,” he said.
Since he entered the race on Sept. 26, Dahlberg has logged thousands of miles going to dozens of events across the state and impressing local activists.
“Chris Dahlberg is doing Campaign 101,” said Nancy LaRoche, chair of the 5th Congressional District in Minneapolis.
Dahlberg’s candidacy got an early boost with an endorsement from Stan Hubbard, owner of the Hubbard Broadcasting media empire and a former employer of mine.
“He’s a terrific guy. In my opinion, he’s by far the best candidate,” Hubbard said. “He understands people and families.”
But the support he’s found so far has yet to show up in the campaign’s bank account. Dahlberg says his campaign will report donations “into the six figures” when he files his fundraising report at the end of the month. “We obviously know we have to bump this up.”
He and his fellow Republican competitors Rep. Jim Abeler and Ortman are unlikely to even come close to the fundraising strength of businessman Mike McFadden, who has reported $1.7 million cash on-hand in his campaign.
Dahlberg appears concerned — but not consumed — by the financial realities of running a successful campaign against Al Franken.
“No amount of money is going to erase a flawed candidate,” he said. And he maintains that even when there’s a frosty reception to his knock at the door, there’s enough fire in his belly to keep him moving to caucus day and beyond.