Kennedy relying on experience
MINNETONKA, Minn. -- Mark Kennedy grabbed a cookie from a plate of treats and started working his way through the room.
"Good to see you. Good to see you," he said to the 30-some residents of RidgePointe senior center gathered to hear from the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.
Kennedy, who represents the 6th Congressional District, found himself among a mostly supportive elderly crowd in this Twin Cities suburb.
"I think he's not out to mislead you," retired Dr. Vincent Winter said after talking with the candidate.
On a Sunday in late September, Kennedy hit the campaign trail after attending the Catholic confirmation of his youngest son. With around 40 relatives at the service, the Kennedy family "was the biggest group, by far," the congressman said.
Kennedy shared that story at two campaign functions. He also touted his modest upbringing in rural Pequot Lakes and the fact that he was his family's first college graduate. At both events he also praised his wife and four children.
"Central to Mark Kennedy is family," he said later.
Voters who back Kennedy do so because "they feel he's genuine and very sincere," said Mike Hickey, a business owner and Kennedy supporter who helped organize a "Meet Mark" event that followed the senior center visit.
"He's an appealing person, appealing personality. He's certainly a man of principle," Hickey said. "He's done what he said he's going to do (in Congress)."
In his Senate campaign Kennedy has billed himself as independent-minded and willing to work with Democrats. The three-term congressman refutes charges that he is a staunch partisan, despite siding with President Bush most of the time.
Kennedy said he is experienced and informed on the issues. The congressman often says his DFL opponent, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, is running a campaign based on "poll-tested sound bites."
"The more they get to know me," he said of voters, "the more they know I have a strong grounding and values that guide me."
Kennedy's Senate bid marks a logical progression, said Jim Knoblach, who studied business with Kennedy at St. John's University in the late 1970s.
Knoblach, a Kennedy friend and state representative from St. Cloud, said at first he was surprised Kennedy went into politics because he had become a successful businessman. But he noted that public service runs in the Kennedy family.
"Mark's always been a very hard worker, always an overachiever. I'm not surprised to find he's still that way," said Knoblach, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP endorsement for the U.S. House seat Kennedy is vacating.
Kennedy is an accountant whose straight-laced demeanor is punctuated by occasional jokes and bursts of loud laughter. He admitted he is not as "dynamic" as some candidates, but said voters want to elect someone with substance.
"I'm not going to win the flash contest. I'll win the get-things-done contest," said the congressman from the small town of Watertown, west of Minneapolis.
Kennedy said his political background has made him a better candidate in the race to succeed DFLer Mark Dayton, who decided against a bid for a second six-year term for the job, which pays $165,200 a year.
Amid a week of reports that Kennedy trailed Klobuchar by double-digit margins, he told a group of campaign volunteers that media polls are "bogus" and meant to discourage their support.
He reminded them of his first victory, defeating incumbent DFL U.S. Rep. David Minge in 2000 by 155 votes after a recount. His 2002 and 2004 victories in the redrawn 6th District, which extends from St. Cloud southeast to the northern edge of the Twin Cities, came by comfortable margins.
Kennedy elicited enthusiasm from supporters with tales of his three election victories and a reminder: "The only poll that matters is Nov. 7."