Invisible Man

Jerry Janezich is staking his U.S. Senate campaign on a populist message and the DFL endorsement. But will any of that matter without TV ads?

Nationwide, the importance of party endorsement has declined in recent years, too, according to Norman Ornstein, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank. "It's rare nowadays to see a primary where at least one of the candidates isn't a multimillionaire, and they don't need endorsements," he says. "They can afford to buy television time, which is the dominant way most people get their information about politics, so now, far more often than not, endorsement doesn't mean very much." The DFL primary, he adds, will provide "a good test case to see whether a candidate can actually win without television."

Regardless of who prevails in the primary, he adds, the failure of the party to coalesce behind a single candidate just seven weeks before the general election could have adverse consequences for the DFL. "Last winter, the perception was that Rod Grams started out as the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the Senate," Ornstein says. "If you were to handicap it now, he would be in the top five, but he wouldn't be the most vulnerable. And for one reason: this fractured DFL process."

That has some DFLers calling for a return to first principles. "The party has to get back to some fundamentals to make endorsements matTabide by endorsement is to make it very difficult to beat an endorsed candidate," says Michael Krause, former chair of the Minneapolis DFL. "We are still an unusual state because our system allows someone like Paul Wellstone or Jerry Janezich to run and be a viable candidate, and Jerry is still a viable candidate only because he's endorsed and this is a four-way race. But there's a reason why 85 out of 100 people in the Senate are millionaires. Other states don't have the same kind of mechanisms. Whether ours is going to survive, I guess only time will tell."

In the flesh: Jerry Janezich presses his case at the Minnesota State Fair
Daniel Corrigan
In the flesh: Jerry Janezich presses his case at the Minnesota State Fair

For Janezich, the remaining time until the election will be spent, he says, meeting as many people as he can, practicing politics on the retail level. After the fundraiser at McLaughlin's house, he and his staffers head off to a second event held at the Van Dusen Mansion and Conference Center in Minneapolis. It's a meet and greet aimed primarily at the city DFL's gay and lesbian community, with a nicely catered spread of hors d'oeuvres, wine, and beer. As it turns out, only a handful of people show up. A snafu with the mailing lists, a campaign staffer latter theorizes. Still, Janezich hangs around for about an hour, manning the keg and talking about the state of his campaign. "Bet you've never had a beer poured by your next United States senator," he tells one guest.

A few months ago he says he was despairing and faced with a tough decision. Some of his advisors, worried about the daunting television campaigns launched by the Dayton and Ciresi campaigns, were encouraging him to lay off some people in the campaign in hopes of husbanding resources for a last-minute TV push. Janezich says he struggled with the issue. "I called my wife, and she told me to just do what I thought was right," he recalls. Afterwards, he was bleakly flipping through the TV stations, landed on C-Span, and caught a tape of a John Kennedy speech. It was from 1960.

Janezich had heard the speech as a boy--in fact, he says, it's what inspired him to enter politics in the first place. He took it as a sign. He called his wife back, and decided then and there that he would forego television ads in the primary. "I told her, That's just not me," he says. "That goes against everything I believe in."

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