MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two people are vying to be the Independence Party candidate for U.S. Senate in the fall, but its chairman said Wednesday that Minnesota’s third major party is focused on legislative races this year and neither candidate should expect help.
Glen Menze and Stephen Williams, both past IP candidates, have filed to run in the August primary. The winner will advance to the general election, where he will likely face incumbent Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and GOP challenger Kurt Bills.
The IP has been a major party in Minnesota since 1994, but its only statewide success was Jesse Ventura’s 1998 win in the governor’s race. However, IP candidates have often influenced tight races, including the last three contests for governor and the 2008 U.S. Senate race.
Party chairman Mark Jenkins said the IP’s executive committee decided several months ago not to commit slim party resources to a U.S. Senate race in which Klobuchar is seen as the big favorite. The party recruited candidates in 13 legislative races, he said, and will devote volunteer energy and fundraising to those.
“Hopefully that lets us start to build some roots for the 2014 governor’s race,” Jenkins said.
Menze, an accountant from the western Minnesota town of Starbuck, is a two-time loser against U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson. As the Republican candidate against Peterson in 2008, Menze won 28 percent of the vote; in 2010, he was the IP’s candidate against Peterson and a Republican, and got just 3 percent of the vote.
“It’s a long shot, no doubt about it, but so was Jesse,” Menze said.
Williams, a corn farmer from Austin, was the IP’s endorsed Senate candidate in 2008, but lost in a primary to Dean Barkley, a Ventura associate whom the former governor appointed to a brief stint in the U.S. Senate after the death of Paul Wellstone. In 2010, Williams unsuccessfully sought the party’s nod to be its candidate for lieutenant governor.
“I’ve been with the Independence Party. I’ve stuck with it through a lot of crap,” Williams said.
Both men said they would seek the party’s endorsement at a state convention later this month. Menze has already won the Senate endorsement from the obscure Minnesota Whig Party, which Jenkins said would prohibit him from getting the IP endorsement. Menze said he might renounce the Whig endorsement if it helps him win IP backing.
Both Klobuchar and Bills have token party opposition in the August primary. Klobuchar is facing frequent candidates Dick Franson, Jack Shepard and Darryl Stanton, while Bills will run against Bob Carney Jr. and David Carlson.
Jenkins made clear that no matter what happens at the IP state convention, legislative races would be the priority. In 2010, IP gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner got about 12 percent of the vote in a race very narrowly won by Democrat Mark Dayton. Matt Lewis, a Horner adviser still active with the party, said having IP state lawmakers could make an IP candidate for governor more plausible to voters.
Jenkins said the goal is to win five or six legislative seats, though he acknowledged he would be pleased to win just one. There are currently no state legislators from the Independence Party.
Both Williams and Menze said it would be a mistake for the party to shy away from the publicity that comes with having a candidate run statewide.
“I think it’s a little shortsighted, taking off four years and then coming back and trying to win a statewide race,” Menze said.
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