Off Beat

A George by Any Other Name

The mythology of Minnesota politics holds that Bill Hillsman, the local ad exec responsible for getting Paul Wellstone and Jesse Ventura elected, is downright visionary when it comes to hatching clever campaigns. But has that vision become dyslexic? Hillsman's Minneapolis firm, North Woods Advertising, plunged into the Wisconsin governor's race, producing billboards in 13 cities across Cheeseland touting Democratic state Sen. Gary George. Trouble is, the billboards transposed the candidate's name to "George Gary," a bass-ackward note played to the tune of $50,000.

All is seemingly forgiven. George's (or is it Gary's?) campaign manager Dave Begel says in an e-mail that all the billboards will be corrected at no additional charge, and that the campaign is retaining the agency's services. "We are very, very pleased with their work," he concludes, apparently still seeing things Hillsman's way.

Given the amount of publicity the gaffe has garnered in Wisconsin, is it possible North Woods purposely pulled the switcheroo? "I'm not gonna tell ya," Hillsman says coyly. "It's self-evident to people who have worked with us before. Go ask them." --By G.R. Anderson Jr.


The Hmong Machine

St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly's political coattails are looking pretty short in the wake of attorney Mee Moua's primary-election triumph last week. Kelly stayed on the sidelines during most of the truncated contest for his vacant state Senate seat. He didn't give a speech on any candidate's behalf at the DFL party's endorsing convention last month. But in the final days before the primary, Kelly sent out a letter imploring East Siders to vote for state Rep. Tim Mahoney. The literature, paid for by the Mahoney campaign but printed on mayoral letterhead, praised the two-term legislator for his hard work and noted that he'd been endorsed by unions such as the Minnesota AFL-CIO. The mailing concluded by declaring three times (in bold print, underlined): "I need Tim Mahoney in the Senate fighting for us." Despite the cheerleading, Mahoney was narrowly defeated by Moua. (Three other candidates finished well behind.)

Moua, who is trying to become the first Hmong state legislator in the nation, was propelled to victory by a force more powerful than words: the East Side's emerging Hmong political machine. At the endorsing convention, more than 100 of her supporters showed up clad in red-white-and-blue T-shirts emblazoned with "Eastsiders for Mee" and chanting "Endorse Mee Moua!" On Election Day her campaign had as many as nine vans at any one time escorting elderly Hmong voters to the polls. Volunteers called more than 800 potential Hmong voters in the district, imploring them to get to the polls. Interpreters were dispatched to heavily Hmong precincts. "A lot of elders took the day off to come in and help," notes Moua's campaign manager, Pakou Hang.

Moua faces three other candidates in the general election January 29, but she's expected to win the heavily Democratic district handily. --By Paul Demko

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