ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – The Minnesota third party that factored prominently into recent top-of-the-ticket races doesn’t plan to actively seek a U.S. Senate candidate for next year.
Independence Party Chairman Mark Jenkins said Thursday that the party is fine leaving the two major parties to go at it. Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar is after a second term and three Republicans are seeking their party nomination.
“In my years with the Independence Party I’ve always seen the Senate race as a distraction from having our best and brightest engaged in state legislative races,” Jenkins said.
He added that his party plans to spend 2012 concentrating on electing at least five candidates to the Minnesota Legislature and building congressional-district infrastructure for the 2014 election.
The Independence Party has had major-party status — and the automatic ballot access that comes with it — since clearing a performance threshold in a 1994 statewide race. It started as the Reform Party and saw its crowning achievement in 1998 with the election of Jesse Ventura as Minnesota governor.
It has fielded candidates for governor and Senate in every campaign since, and those candidates often figured into the outcome of tight contests involving Democratic and GOP candidates.
In 2008, for instance, Dean Barkley won 15 percent of the vote in a Senate race that Democrat Al Franken won by 312 votes over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.
Barkley, who is widely seen as a party founder and was briefly an appointed U.S. senator, said he won’t run for Senate in 2012 nor has he heard from anyone itching to carry the IP banner next year.
“I would have assumed that if someone was serious about it I probably would have heard about it by now,” Barkley said Thursday. “I’m usually one of the first ones they call upon and my phone has not rang.”
Party leaders realize the strategy poses risks.
“We can’t keep someone off the line on the ballot,” Jenkins said. “So to some degree we need to work to make sure it’s not a complete embarrassment to the party.”
Anyone eligible to hold the office can file for the race as an IP candidate. Minnesota has no formal party registration.
The IP’s major party status is secure through 2014 thanks to Tom Horner’s 12 percent showing in last year’s gubernatorial election.
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