US Senate Candidate Kurt Bills Struggles Against Incumbent

(Minnesota Public Radio / Mark Zdechlik)[/caption]

In Minnesota, a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1972, state representative and US Senate candidate Kurt Bills is challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.

A first-term representative and high school economics teacher, Bills is one of a growing number of Republicans endorsed by Texas congressman Dr. Ron Paul. At 42 years of age, Bills is young enough to be a player in Minnesota politics for years to come regardless of the outcome of the 2012 race.

The nomination of Kurt Bills is one of the first fruits of the delegate strategy utilized by the Ron Paul presidential campaign. Instead of contesting every state’s primary or caucus, he set an objective of gaining a majority of delegates through state conventions. It was in the Minnesota state Republican Convention, one of five states where Paul earned a plurality of delegates, that Bills was endorsed on the second ballot.

In the August 14 primary, Bills won with 51% of the vote against two challengers, a small percentage for a candidate who had the endorsement of the state party. For comparison, his general election opponent won her primary with 91% against three challengers.

The 51% showing recognized a “repudiation and a rejection of the libertarian ideology,” Bills challenger and former Marine Corps sergeant David Carlson said.

Washington University political science professor Steven Smith says Bills is not necessarily unelectable. However, he noted that “this shows that Bills has some problems. Name recognition is a pretty serious issue . . . I don’t [sic] this is a question of a lack of support among Republicans, but just very, very low name I.D.”

Kurt Bills’ general election opponent is Amy Klobuchar of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, a Minnesota state affiliate of the Democratic Party. Klobuchar, who won her first U.S. Senate race in 2006, has supported traditional Democratic causes such as economic stimulus, gay rights, and health care reform. Earlier this year, she was rated as the sixth most popular US Senator by Public Policy Polling and would have beaten Minnesota’s Republican presidential candidates Tim Pawlenty, a former governor of the state, and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in head-to-head match-ups.

The early polls have shown Klobuchar leading Bills by double-digits and a September 6 poll of 500 likely voters from Wenzel Strategies shows Bills trailing 51.6 to 37.8%.

The road ahead for any of the Republicans that might have challenged Klobuchar would have been difficult. With much controversy surrounding Dr. Paul’s decision to contest the Republican presidential nomination through state conventions, Bills is clearly an identifiable player in that process and has to confront intra-party fissures as well.

Bills, however, has been pragmatic. Despite an endorsement from Ron Paul and his status as an elected Paul delegate to the Republican National Convention, Bills urged the Minnesota delegation to instead show united support for Mitt Romney. Perhaps, sensing that the 51% primary showing might fuel speculation that Bills is an unreliable Republican is the reason he has shown unwavering support for the Republican presidential nominee.

The Ron Paul movement has registered a number of victories: Representative Justin Amash in Michigan and Senator Rand Paul in Kentucky, as well as the likely victory of Thomas Massie of Kentucky to the U.S. House of Representatives.

However, along with some victories come growing pains. Kurt Bills faces a formidable challenge in Minnesota against Klobuchar, a popular incumbent who has not misstepped and identifies well with her party. He also faces a conundrum of low name ID and depleted campaign coffers.

After learning of the latest poll showing him trailing Klobuchar by 14 points, the Bills campaign replied, “The more voters learn about Kurt Bills, the better he does. We intend to pull ahead by November 6th.”

If Bills tightens the gap, even if he never overcomes Klobuchar, it may prove a victory, of sorts, for his campaign. That a candidate with low name ID and low reserves of campaign money can compete against a well-funded incumbent, may mean the long-term viability of the Ron Paul movement.