Grassroots campaign hits the streets for Wellstone

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Some 150 volunteers and campaign staff streamed out of a send-off meeting at the labor center here Oct. 13, headed for a day of door-to-door canvassing to re-elect labor-backed progressive Sen. Paul Wellstone, who is at the top of the Bush administration’s election hit-list.

Holding a list of undecided voters they were about to visit, Wellstone staffer Lisa Boynton and co-worker Edward Yoon told the World the campaign is putting a priority on face-to-face contact with voters. Wellstone campaigners have spoken to about 75,000 people directly through door-knocking and phone calls thus far, Boynton said.

Wellstone, running for a third term, has drawn an overwhelmingly positive response to his vote opposing the Bush administration plan for unilateral pre-emptive war on Iraq. Boynton said about 2,800 phone calls had come in during the last week and a half, and of those about 2,000 backed his stand. A number of callers said they were switching their support to Wellstone because of his courageous stand opposing war, she commented.

At a firefighter/police “booya” cookoff fundraiser (booya, a Minnesota specialty, is a hearty stew cooked for hours in a huge vat) later in the day, St. Paul Fire Fighters Local 21 Secretary Tim Wirth and Local 21 President Dick Leitner told the World their local and international union have endorsed Wellstone because he has been a “real strong supporter of firefighters” since he’s been in the Senate. “He has a 100 percent voting record on our issues,” Wirth said. Firefighters and other city workers are angry at Wellstone’s Republican opponent, former St. Paul mayor Norman Coleman. In his eight years as mayor, Coleman cut city retirees’ health benefits, and workers’ health insurance costs have gone up repeatedly. Coleman “fought us tooth and nail on every contract,” said Wirth.

About one-third of St. Paul’s fire companies run short-staffed on a daily basis, Wirth said. Among firefighters’ big concerns are adequate staffing and safety equipment to respond to emergencies, including terrorist attacks. “We are the first response in the ‘war on terrorism,’” Leitner noted, but Bush has turned thumbs down on federal funding for new breathing apparatus and other safety equipment, and for essential health studies of Sept. 11 rescue workers and volunteers. “Part of why we’re supporting Wellstone is, for the first time in many years the Republicans control the presidency, the House and the Supreme Court,” said Wirth. “Our only hope is to retain control of the Senate.” Coleman, who was handpicked by the Bush administration to try to defeat Wellstone, is trying to present himself as a “moderate,” but the firefighters along with other workers warn that Coleman, if elected, would “fall in line with Bush” on his anti-worker agenda.

The firefighters’ international union has assigned staff to the Wellstone campaign, is planning an endorsement ceremony close to Election Day, and will be doing phone banking and literature drops, Wirth told the World.

On Oct. 7 Wellstone received the endorsement of the national political action committee (PAC) of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the nation’s second-largest veterans’ service organization. Wellstone has established a strong record as a champion of veterans’ benefits.

The VFW PAC endorsement brings with it the political support of 1.9 million members and 750,000 auxiliary members. Mike Kodluboy, Minnesota VFW PAC chairman, said the endorsement will include cash to Wellstone’s campaign, telephone-bank support and get-out-the-vote support during the final weeks of the campaign.

“This is a grassroots campaign,” Wellstone campaigner Yoon said as he and Boynton got into their car, anxious to get started on door-knocking. “We’re going to rise.”

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