An Unlikely Spoiler

Could senate candidate Ed McGaa put a crimp in Paul Wellstone's plans?

Last Tuesday, Ed "Eagle Man" McGaa, quirky candidate for U.S. Senate, sat quietly inside Lucille's Kitchen, a restaurant on the city's north side. Insight News editor Al McFarlane was holding court, moderating his weekly public-policy forum in front of a crowd of 40, nearly all of them African Americans.

After a song by a five-piece soul band crammed in a corner, McFarlane introduced McGaa to the assembled, and to those tuning in to KMOJ-FM (89.9), Minneapolis's black-oriented community radio station.

"As African Americans, we feel we are really made up of small nations, not minorities," McFarlane said to McGaa, who was seated to his left at a long conference table. "What do you think of resisting the effort by European society to limit [and] destroy our identity?"

McGaa didn't even blink before launching into a diatribe against the "religion of the Man." As an American Indian, he inveighed, he had been denied his own religion for most of his life. And Martin Luther King Jr. had opened doors for his people. "You are a natural people; you come from nature," said McGaa. "That's not an insult; that's true. And that's a beautiful thing. Hell, I'm just like you--we just want to be loved." There were some giggles and "amens" in the crowd before an outbreak of applause.

McGaa then proclaimed that African Americans and American Indians were related; that they had "intermarried" for years and everyone in the room had Indian blood in them. "I'm from South Dakota, so you know where the hell I've been," he continued. "I've been way down in Mississippi.

"I'm a politician, so they're gonna get down on me for saying this," McGaa concluded, as heads nodded in agreement. "But it's all true."

While the folks at Lucille's may have been impressed with McGaa's musings, his blunt talk has rankled some members of his own party, the Green Party of Minnesota, whose endorsement he secured as an unknown back in May. Initially, his campaign struggled for recognition, for a time falling so far below the radar that many began to wonder whether McGaa was serious about running for office. In recent weeks, however, McGaa has emerged as a more viable, if quixotic, candidate.

Questions still abound about his role in the Green Party, and in the upcoming election, where the contest between Republican Norm Coleman and incumbent DFLer Paul Wellstone may well decide the majority in the U.S. Senate. Locally, though, McGaa's presence, and that of Independence Party endorsee Jim Moore, promises to complicate a race that could be decided by several small pockets of swing votes.

Although there was much controversy about whether the Greens should even field a candidate in the race (and pressure from Wellstone supporters for the Greens to stay out), it's not entirely clear that McGaa will siphon votes from the DFL after all, or whether he's the right person to help the party shake its image as a fringe group, or whether he's even a true Green.

"Certainly some within the party are not really happy with how he is presenting himself," concedes Holle Brian, Green candidate for the state-representative seat in District 62B in Minneapolis, adding that several other, more well-known candidates may have been dissuaded from running against Wellstone. "We are just getting started and this Senate race is a very tough race. It's very demanding and high-profile."

That the Greens may be overextending themselves by entering a close, costly race for U.S. Senate is not a new thought. Back in January Bill Hillsman, the Minneapolis ad exec whose TV commercials helped secure Wellstone's and Gov. Jesse Ventura's upset victories, opined that the Green movement "will damage itself if the candidates aren't very good," and suggested that the party would do well to focus on just two or three statewide races. "For a Senate race, you really have to know who a candidate is," Hillsman concluded. "The party's platform is not strong enough to help them carry five percent."

(Achieving five percent of the statewide vote grants any party major-party status in Minnesota, crucial for potential state funding and ballot placement for candidates. And the Greens achieved that threshold in this state with Ralph Nader's showing in the 2000 presidential election, but the group does not get public money for the U.S. Senate race, because it is a national contest.)

But half a year later, here's McGaa. Despite the fact that he came to the Green party only four weeks before the convention, McGaa emerged with an endorsement. Some early missteps by his campaign raised concerns that McGaa's inexperience will reflect poorly on the party as a whole. (There's already been a misunderstanding over campaign-fund filings; ultimately it was proven that McGaa's campaign had not done anything wrong. Still, McGaa, Holle Brian chuckles, "is not interested in doing a lot of paperwork.")

Karen Carlson, McGaa's campaign co-manager, admits that it's been "tough to get going, with some resistance toward the campaign from our own party." Nonetheless, McGaa will face an equally low-profile opponent, Ray Tricomo, a schoolteacher from Oakdale, in the primary.

McGaa himself is undeterred. "I'm a veteran, a combat veteran," he says. "Some Greens have a problem with the fact that I've fought."

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