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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published July 29 2012

Minn. GOP Senate candidate Kurt Bills’ campaign keeps plugging along

ST. PAUL – Kurt Bills considers himself “The Little Engine That Could.”

Instead of the children’s book version of a little locomotive delivering toys over a mountain while repeating “I think I can,” Republican Bills is trying to deliver votes for his U.S. Senate campaign over a rugged and steep political path.

The first-term state representative and high school economics teacher from Rosemount said he needs to do the work almost by himself because the Minnesota Republican Party has so many financial problems that it cannot help him. So far, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has little presence in Minnesota, something else that could hurt GOP candidates.

The mountain Bills faces has many obstacles as he tries to beat U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the Nov. 6 election. He faces token opposition in the Aug. 14 primary election.

One hurdle is financial. Klobuchar has raised

$5.5 million for re-election; Bills had $65,000 at last report.

The Republican Party is in financial trouble, faces legal challenges and is divided between traditional Republicans and Ron Paul-for-president supporters.

Then there is Bills’ lack of statewide name recognition. He has not even finished his first two-year term in the Legislature, where he has not been one of the most visible lawmakers.

In an interview, Bills seemed as determined as the children’s book train engine. But he also is realistic.

“David vs. Goliath” is how Bills looks at the race.

Polls show Klobuchar is the state’s most popular politician, and she is a sought-after political speaker nationally who sometimes is mentioned as a future presidential candidate.

With little the party can do to help financially, and the Romney campaign so far deciding to mostly skip Minnesota, Bills said it feels like he is all by himself.

“We are out there running as hard as we can on our own,” he said. “We have been working double-time to overcome that; I should say quadruple-time.”

Bills praises new GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge’s work to recover from big debt, but the candidate realizes big-buck aid is not in the cards.

“We will be lean, and we will be focused, and we will not waste resources,” Shortridge said.

The chairman would not be specific about the party’s finances, but Republicans are paying off a $2 million debt. They face thousands more in penalties over campaign finance violations.

Bills’ campaign manager, Mike Osskopp, a former state legislator and radio talk show host, said the campaign will fund some functions the party usually would.

Bills said his campaign is blending Paul supporters, tea party backers and traditional Republicans after obvious divisions at the party’s May state convention.

He estimated that 70 percent of his time is spent raising money, with 30 percent in campaign activities such as walking in parades, a typical breakdown for candidates at this stage. That likely will change to 50-50 in mid-September.