The Independence Party’s election night reception had a perfunctory feel about it — not exactly somber, but nothing much to holler about either. About 100 supporters and candidates watched CNN on a big screen in the grand ballroom of the Sheraton Minneapolis, near Ridgedale in Minnetonka.
As early results trickled in, it became apparent that Dean Barkley wasn’t going to shock the world with any kind of upset over Norm Coleman or Al Franken in his U.S. Senate bid. In fact, it soon became clear that Barkley was hovering around 15 per cent of the vote, a slight disappointment to the faithful who thought he might at least hit 20 per cent.
No one expressed outright disappointment, but frustration with the two-party stronghold and disgust with the Coleman and Franken campaigns were themes of the night. That, and: What now?
“This isn’t the end, this is the start,” Barkley told the die-hards shortly after 9 p.m., not quite giving a concession speech. “We need to keep on building this party, so even if I do not win tonight, two years from now we can win and carry on because this country needs an alternative.”
Barkley was referring to the 2010 Minnesota gubernatorial race, not himself: He’s been saying all along that this bid — his fourth run for Washington since the early 1990s — is his last.
As Barkley spoke, one silent figure loomed in the far back corner: Former Gov. Jesse Ventura. Clad in a black leather jacket and tan khakis, his crown of black hair pulled into a teeny pony tail, the Body mingled pleasantly for most of the evening with supporters and well-wishers, but he wasn’t talking to the media — not surprisingly.
But not because he was in a mood to tweak the jackals — the guv expressed a desire to lie low, out of the spotlight. And Ventura has to if the party is to move away from his shadow. Same with Barkley. It’s not their party anymore, but the question remains, whose is it?
Still a major party, eyes on the Capitol
Aside from Barkley, the IP fielded some decent candidates in U.S. Congress races: David Dillon pulled 10 per cent in the 3rd Congressional District and Bill McGaughey garnered nearly 7 per cent in the 5th.
(Most party faithful seemed bemused by Bob Anderson, who gained 10 per cent in the 6th Congressional District, essentially handing the race to Michele Bachmann over El Tinklenberg, whom the Independence Party had actually endorsed. Score another one for the Scandinavian name effect.)
But many — like political ad guru and Jesse/Barkley buddy Bill Hillsman — have long contended that U.S. Congressional and Senate races are no place to build a third-party apparatus. Rather, local and statewide races are where inroads can be made. And to that end, party activists have their sights set on St. Paul in 2010.
Sound far-fetched? Well consider that Barkley scored more than twice the percentage points he did in Senate bids in 1994 and 1996. And the party has maintained major-party status, with Peter Hutchinson’s 6.4 per cent showing in the 2006 gubernatorial race — something that opens some state coffers for any candidate the IP may field.
“Tonight’s the next chapter,” Chris Truscott, Barkley’s communications director, nothing the lack of public money for Barkley’s run. “Federal races are tough because of spending laws.”
And consider that many around the state share the sentiments of Jim Moore, the IP’s Senate candidate in 2002, when he says that Franken and Coleman ran “the worst Senate campaign I’ve ever seen as far as what it offers voters.”
In fact, Moore, who stepped down as the party’s chair last year, says he’s actively looking at potential candidates — but of course, there’s a dearth of big-name candidates like Ventura out there.
“If you don’t have the candidate, you find one,” Moore said, without naming names. “It’s hard with name recognition and money. But these will be names you’ve heard of.”
The Independence Party has fielded some strong candidates in the past who went nowhere, and it’s obvious that sometimes the right candidate can manage around 5 to 10 per cent of the vote. But actually win a race?
“The Republicans went too far right and the pendulum is swinging for moderates,” Moore offered. “There’s an opening for us.”
G.R. Anderson Jr. covers politics, the state Capitol and issues related to public safety.