Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Kurt Bills builds buzz — and holds fast to Paul Wellstone comparisons

The Kurt Bills campaign for Senate has collected criticism from the left and the right for “Quick Kurt.” His online ad imitates “Fast Paced Paul,” the introductory ad of Wellstone’s 1990 underdog campaign that ended up defeating Sen. Rudy Boschwitz.

Bills campaign manager Mike Osskopp knows buzz when he hears it.

The campaign not only stands by the comparison between two underdog candidates but also is trying to reinforce the similarities.

“Wellstone and Bills also share a prairie populism,” the campaign stated in a news release Tuesday. “Both come from working class backgrounds, were teachers, were wrestlers, and share a deep skepticism of the establishment.”

Bill Hillsman, the adman who created “Fast Paced Paul,” is only mildly amused.

“Strategically, it’s a stretch,” he said.But, “it’s a man-bites-dog story,” he said, because the candidates are political opposites. “He’s trying to lure people into writing about it — and it’s working.”

Hillsman ticks off the multiple differences between the two ads.

First, the Wellstone ad actually had a broadcast airing — “Literally hundreds of thousands of people saw it” — while, at present, the Bills ad is only online. (The campaign, however, said it hopes to raise enough funds to air the ad.)

The Bills ad was written by Osskopp, who directed the scenes and sent a staff member to travel with Bills to capture the video on a handheld camera. By comparison, the Wellstone ad was created by a team of professionals, headed by Hillsman, who already had a portfolios of prestige accounts.

“Fast Paced Paul” was meant as a spoof. With a frantic Wellstone running from pillar to post, “it was a way to poke fun at the traditional biographical ads that every candidate has to do,” said Hillsman.

“Quick Kurt” is an unabashed imitation right down to the campaign buses. “The Bills ad is an homage to Wellstone’s campaign,” said Osskopp, who said he is sorry that Wellstone’s son, David, found the ad disrespectful.

The 60-second Kurt Bills ad, twice the length of the Wellstone spot, takes a direct shot at Sen. Amy Klobuchar, citing votes that it claims Wellstone would have never taken.

Hillsman sees the mention as“an excuse to drive a wedge between Klobuchar and Wellstone.”

But at least one political observer who knew Wellstone says the Klobuchar criticism is on target.

“Klobuchar is the ‘great avoider,’ ” says former Gov. Arne Carlson. “And Minnesota has long prided itself on U.S. senators who have been in the center of controversies.” He mentioned, in particular, Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, Dave Durenberger, even Rod Grams.

Hillsman believes the goal of the ad, and the Bills campaign, is to reach the independent Minnesota voter.“It was fascinating how many independents voted for Wellstone,” he said.

Bill Hillsmansimonandschuster.netBill Hillsman

“A lot of people who voted for Paul, didn’t agree with him on every single issue,” he said.

Hillsman allows that the perception of Wellstone as an iconic politician tempts others into association.

Again, the Bills campaign is doing nothing to keep its distance from the Wellstone image. “I know a lot of conservatives who disliked his policies but who couldn’t help but respect the fact that he had the courage of his convictions,” Bills stated in the Tuesday news release.

Still, Osskopp has had to reassure some Republicans who wondered why the campaign was cozying up to the reputation of one of the most liberal senators ever elected.

“We are not drawing a comparison to Wellstone, the senator. We are drawing a comparison to Wellstone, the candidate,” he said. “Then, I tell them, ‘Oh, by the way, he won.’ ”

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/01/2012 - 09:50 am.

    Builds buzz?

    Watch that echo chamber effect Ms. Brucato. Outside of Minnpost I have seen absolutely nothing about Bills and his “Wellstone” ad. That’s a buzz in a bubble if ever there was one.

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/01/2012 - 10:16 am.

    Prairie populism?

    The man who believes in a return to the gold standard is calling himself a “prairie populist?” Ignatius Donnelly is spinning in his grave.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/01/2012 - 10:19 am.

    Call me anything

    Just call me.

  4. Submitted by mike Osskopp on 08/01/2012 - 10:20 am.

    Builds buzz?


    Obviously, you’re the one in an echo chamber. Try the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Channel 5 news, KSTP, WCCO, MPR, The Hill and the Sacramento Bee for starters.

  5. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 08/01/2012 - 10:29 am.

    Can’t say the ad is “disrespectful”

    The ad says “I’m like Paul Wellstone” Anyone is allowed to say that and, in fact, it’s a compliment to Wellstone, the generally progressive icon, for a Tea Party guy to say “I’m like him.” The problem is that Bills ISN’T like Wellstone (nor is Klobuchar, for that matter, as Arne Carlson rightly notes). Wellstone favored balancing the scale so that ordinary folks could have the opportunity to make decent lives for themselves and their families and not be mere playthings of the powers that be. Bills wants to dismantle the only mechanism by which ordinary folks can achieve this (i.e., “government”). That’s the problem with folks who have mastered “Econ 101” but never gotten to “Econ 102.”

    • Submitted by Susan McNerney on 08/02/2012 - 11:35 am.

      He’s Bizarro Wellstone

      Sometimes when people are exact opposites, they can, from a distance, seem to have similarities.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/01/2012 - 11:19 am.

    Echo chambers, &c.

    Until right at the end, I have to endorse Chuck Holtman’s comment. As he rightly points out, Bills is NOT like Wellstone in oh, so many ways. I’m inclined to agree with the most common criticism of Mrs. Klobuchar, as well – that she tends to be an “avoider,” and would rather not make waves – but that might well be simply part of her personality, political or otherwise.

    More relevant is Holtman’s other point. Mr. Bills wants to dismantle, or at least cripple, the only means by which the proverbial playing field can be made to approximate being level – government.

    I do have to part ways with Mr. Holtman, however, when we get to the “…mastered ‘Econ 101’ but never gotten to ‘Econ 102’ “ part. Going back to the gold standard is not something likely to be taken seriously by anyone outside Mr. Bills’ campaign bus and the occasional reactionary who thinks we should still be under the Articles of Confederation. I don’t see much evidence that Mr. Bills has come close to mastering “Econ 101” yet.

  7. Submitted by Roy Everson on 08/01/2012 - 11:56 am.

    A teaching moment

    I appreciate the ad because it gives us reason to reflect on one of the greatest and most exciting moments of state political history in the last quarter century– the Wellstone upset. In a couple months we have a tragic 10-year anniversary to observe.

    The ad is also useful by inviting insight like Chuck Holtman’s on the contrast between Wellstone and Bills. Perhaps it may nudge Klobuchar into being more like Paul.

    It’s a smart move by a campaign wanting to create buzz that eventually would lull low-information voters into believing the absurd notion that Bills represents their best interests. I think Professor Wellstone would have more than few words on distinguishing right wing and left wing populism.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/01/2012 - 12:19 pm.

    An offer to Mr. Bills

    I don’t often acknowledge it, but I re-wired Wellstone’s school bus as a favor to my lefty neighbor and friend Len Yotter.

    When his campaign manager came over to pick the thing up, I offered, tongue in cheek of course, to mount an air cannon on the little deck on the back of the bus so Paul could blow food stamps out to the crowd.

    Turns out populist lefty’s don’t have much of a sense of humor.

    Now since Curt is playing with the similarities, I’d like to offer to mount that same air cannon on his bus, so that he can blow out job applications to the crowd, but unfortunately there won’t be much ammo for that cannon until Obama has been returned to Chicago until after the election.

  9. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/01/2012 - 01:02 pm.

    There are differences

    between a liberal Democrat (Wellstone)
    a centrist Democrat (Klobuchar)
    and a conservative Republican (Billings).

  10. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/01/2012 - 01:15 pm.


    Mr. Bills is being pretty silly with this. Although, if it works, it works. He is no Wellstone, though. Not even close. There’s no one out there truly like Wellstone–those that are closest to what Paul stood for would have no place in Tea Party praise. From the standpoint of the Tea Party, Bills likening himself to Wellstone is like saying to anyone that he has all the good qualities of Hitler. (No, Wellstone is nothing like Hitler and no, Bills, I’m sure is nothing like Hitler, but you get the point. Wellstone stood for everything that the Tea Party doesn’t.) It almost has to backfire.

  11. Submitted by Chuck Johnson on 08/01/2012 - 01:42 pm.

    Enough of the puff pieces

    How about some serious coverage of position differences between Kurt Bills and Amy Klobuchar on issues such as foreign policy and government spending? For instance, last June, Amy Klobuchar signed a letter, along with 43 other US Senators, advocating an American military attack upon Iran.

    Although this is a huge issue, it has received little or no publicity in the local press. The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has stated that any such attack would be “imprudent.” What is Kurt Bills position on this issue? Does Mr Bills Econ101 plan afford the trillion dollars or more it would cost to fight such a war?

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/01/2012 - 09:02 pm.

    Actuallhy it is a buzz in a bubble.

    If you google Kurt Bills news only one story about his Wellstone comparison besides the Minnpost piece pops up, and that Strib reprint from the 30th that has long since disappeared.

  13. Submitted by rolf westgard on 08/02/2012 - 03:14 am.

    Speaking of imprudent

    I am a strong supporter of Amy K even though I disagree with her on the notion of adding 20% moonshine to our gasoline – a notion that is insanely beyond imprudent.

  14. Submitted by mike Osskopp on 08/02/2012 - 11:30 am.

    Buzz in a bubble


    Tune into WCCO-TV tonight. Pat Kessler is doing a story on the ad this afternoon. That will be the 2nd TV news story on the ad. KSTP-TV did it yesterday.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/02/2012 - 01:05 pm.

      I like Pat Kessler’s Reality Checks

      I won’t watch it, though. I’ve given up on TV “news.” All news is good news, though, eh? You keep on drumming it up. The problem with this stuff is that the buzz peters out pretty quickly, and it seems to be a luke warm buzz, at best. 2 television spots, a handful of news articles, and some blogs–all coming to the same conclusion of “huh? that’s not even clever” won’t win the election. But, I suppose, one must never underestimate the power of ignorant people in large groups.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/03/2012 - 07:38 am.

    TV news

    Yeah, it’ll right before the “Good Question” about why some shoes have laces. Too bad everyone will be watching the Olympics. Just cause it’s on TV doesn’t make it news. “Buzz” means normal people are talking about it. Normal people are not talking about this ad, or watching it. I still haven’t seen it. This story to the extent that it’s even a story, will be ancient history by Monday Morning, much less by election day when Bills goes down in flames as that guy who lost to Amy K. that one time.

Leave a Reply