Independence Party Senate candidate hopes to sway voters
Minneapolis – The Independence Party hasn't won a statewide election in Minnesota since Jesse Ventura's surprise gubernatorial victory in 1998.
But since the 1994 election, when the party attained major political party status in Minnesota, its candidates have drawn significant support and had a big impact on the outcome of statewide elections.
Kevin Terrell, IP's endorsed candidate in the U.S. Senate race this year, thinks that could happen again. Along with Republican Party's eventual nominee, Terrell will challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken in November.
Terrell, 50, aims to capitalize on voter discontent with the two largest parties.
"Government in America should be of the people, by the people and for the people and what we're seeing is an awful lot of government happening to the people," he said.
Terrell, of Minneapolis, has worked in military intelligence for the Department of Defense and held corporate management positions at Cummins-Onan, General Electric Capital Fleet Service and other companies. He talks a lot about efficiency and accountability, and doing the most with the least.
"For me it's not a question or bigger government or smaller government, it's a question of better government," he said. "How do we get value from government?"
Terrell serves on the board of the Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association and has organized several thousand people against airport noise. He said he has more government experience than Franken had when he first ran for Senate and more than businessman Mike McFadden, who won the Republican endorsement and is favored to win the GOP primary.
Terrell said he's best choice to represent Minnesotans in the Senate because he is not tied to either of the two huge political parties and the special interests that fund them.
"I want to connect Washington back to the people," he said. "The beltway is an ever growing moat, if you will, around Washington D.C. that's separating Washington from the people. The only special interest that I have is the people of Minnesota."
So far, Terrell is running a bare-bones campaign. His southwest Minneapolis home also serves as his campaign headquarters and he has a small staff.
But he has already aired radio ads on a couple of stations in the Twin Cities, spots that encourage listeners who are "tired of out-of-touch politicians who just vote the party line" to visit his "accountability plan" at kt4thepeople.com.
Given the party’s modest success in the last two decades, it is unlikely that Terrell will win his bid for Senate. But if recent history is any indication, he could win hundreds of thousands of votes.
In the 2008 Senate election, Franken narrowly won the Senate seat after a recount determined he had just 312 more votes than then-U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman out of 2.9 million cast. Franken and Coleman each won more than 1.2 million votes but more than 437,000 Minnesotans cast ballots for IP candidate Dean Barkley. That's more than 15 percent of those voting.
In 2008, polls showed Coleman was losing far fewer supporters to Barkley than Franken was, Washington University political scientist Steven Smith said.
"So maybe Franken could have won that election with a sufficiently large amount to avoid the recount," Smith said. "But as it turns out he won anyway so Barkley probably didn't tip the balance."
A big question for 2014 is whether Terrell is more likely to attract voters who would typically support a Democrat such as Franken or those who lean Republican.
Some Republican-leaning voters may find Terrell's conservative talk about efficiency and accountability appealing as well as his more liberal stance on social issues given that he supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage, Smith said.
"So it could be that there will be people out there unhappy with the incumbent Al Franken who don't find the Republican candidate especially on social issues to be quite the alternative they want and will end up casting votes for Terrell," Smith said. "But Terrell will have to be viewed by many of them as a reasonably viable alternative."
Even though he's raised only about $20,000 for his campaign -- half of that from his own bank account -- Terrell promises he'll be a viable alternative to Franken and whomever Republicans put up against him.
Terrell, who expects to spend less than $1 million on his Senate campaign, hope the debates and the media attention they draw will help him gain attention, just as they have for other Independence Party candidates.
"I think what you are going to see from us is a new level of strategy behind the scenes in terms of smarts on who we're going after and how and using that to wisely target not only voters, but money," he said.