Off Beat

Just how intelligent is the local electorate? A prominent advertisement in last Monday's Strib may hold the key. Bearing the imprimatur of something called the Voter's Choice Project, it read: "The DFL Party endorsed a candidate for governor at the June state convention. Is the DFL endorsed candidate your choice?" All five DFL candidates, plus "Uncommitted" were listed, and readers were urged to "Call and vote for the DFL candidate you want to win in the September 15th Primary." Thing was, the phone number was a 900 line, complete with a small-print heads-up that each call would cost three bucks. According to the tiny type, an outfit called ARI Systems, Inc., "sponsored" the "survey" (which is "non-binding"--thank goodness!).

While 900 lines, as far as we know, are untested as election-time bellwethers, ostensibly tried-and-true political wisdom says the tallest candidate always wins. When the DFL hopefuls convened recently at WCCO-TV's State Fair booth, the après-debate photo op clearly showed Mike Freeman (6'3") a few inches ahead of Ted Mondale (6'1"). Mark Dayton (skinny, but at 5'9" not as tall as you might have thought) got to look down on Skip Humphrey (5'8"), and Doug Johnson (5'5") beamed up at them all. If you're wondering how the DFL'ers might measure up to Norm Coleman in November, Coleman headquarters reports that their candidate stands six feet even.

Most pollsters don't seem to think he has a chance, but Freeman might have more going for him than his height. DFL insiders say the party's poll--historically more accurate in identifying likely primary voters than the newspaper surveys--has the endorsed candidate running only a few points behind Humphrey. Conspiracy theorists have been heard grousing about a party structure rife with "closet" Humphrey supporters blocking a whole-hog effort on Freeman's behalf, and the DFL's executive committee--anxious to salvage the tarnished shine of endorsement--has twice called for a stepped-up pro-Freeman campaign.

Whole-hog party effort or not, sparks are finally beginning to fly on the campaign trail. This week Freeman took at least one glove off with a commercial taking Humphrey to task for his support of then-Democrat Coleman in the St. Paul mayoral contest five years ago. And in the race to replace Skip as AG, David Lillehaug is running a truly vitriolic radio spot against DFL rival Mike Hatch. The ad trumpets then-U.S. Attorney Lillehaug's 1994 prosecution of con man David Lefkowitz--for defrauding, among others, the Lakeville Volunteer Fire Department Relief Fund and the First Presbyterian Church of Mankato. It also alleges that Hatch intervened on behalf of Lefkowitz with local securities brokers and with the Minnesota Department of Commerce (of which Hatch was once commissioner), and mentions a $3,000 contribution Lefkowitz made to Hatch's 1994 gubernatorial campaign. For his part, Hatch points out that he represented Lefkowitz's company, not Lefkowitz personally.

Lillehaug's lucky he didn't stake his ad campaign on testimonials from his own former staff. It seems that when the U.S. Attorney's Office's internal newsletter Hearsay solicited farewell letters to Lillehaug, only one of 90 staffers responded. Quizzed about the apparent lack of enthusiasm, spokeswoman Karen Bailey exercised her right to remain silent for several seconds, then finally sighed, "I don't recall."

Off Beat is open for business and accepting tips. Call 372-3788 or e-mail [email protected] with any poop (political or otherwise) that's fit to print.

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