by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
A veteran Republican legislator and a veteran State Capitol political reporter suggested the same thing — Rep. Kurt Bills, Republican U.S. Senate candidate, may need to keep it simpler.
“I don’t know if he wants to be more of a politician — that might not be the right word or right term to use,” said Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, with a smile.
“But he could be a little more plain spoken” Hackbarth said.
The idea that Bills, an economics teacher, gets too complicated in discussing the federal budget was echoed during a State Capitol press conference Oct. 12 when a television political reporter urged Bills to dumb it down.
Bills was warning of dire consequences from automatic federal budget cuts taking place unless Congress and Democratic President Barack Obama reach a budget agreement by the end of the year.
“This is not a grand compromise, folks,” Bills said of the Budget Control Act, which holds the possibility of automatic cuts.
“People are more worried about their posterior than prosperity,” Bills said of the perceived lack of urgency in Washington.
Bills criticized his opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, for failing to show leadership — for sticking to talking points while the country teetered on the brink.
State Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, one of about 35 supporters who greeted the Bills campaign bus at Majestic Oaks in Ham Lake on Oct. 12, suggested that talking about budgetary issues is indeed challenging.
“It’s not as easy as promising to spend more money,” Benson said.
Speaking on the campaign bus before leaving for a stop in Cambridge, Bills suggested that meaningfully discussing the federal budget was challenging not only for candidates but the media.
“I’m just trying to be that guy to provide the catalyst to write those good (budget) stories,” Bills said.
Bills, wearing a dark dress coat and scarf against the morning chill, mingled with supporters at Ham Lake, shook hands, made small talk.
“Only a few days left here. It’s down to hours,” Bills said of time remaining to Election Day.
Standing on an embankment beneath a stark autumn tree, Bills urged supporters to relentlessly campaign in the remaining days of the election.
“Don’t ever be afraid of getting egg yolk on your shirt,” Bills said of taking the Republican message into unfamiliar areas.
“All you need to do now is pour it on. Make this your only hobby until November 6th,” he said.
On the bus, Bills indicated satisfaction with his campaign.
“It’s going well. We’re connecting with people,” he said.
“It’s tough without all the money.”
But donations are coming in, he said.
The campaign has reserved ad spots with television networks.
“We’re going to go up on the air,” Bills said.
Bills depicted his campaign as providing a wonderful platform.
“I get to say the things I’ve been waiting to say for 15 years,” he said.
Though suggesting Bills could speak more plainly, he has exactly the right message, Hackbarth said.
Voters ask about him.
“A lot of people haven’t heard about Kurt Bills,” Hackbarth said.
One strength of the Bills campaign comes from having Republican candidates talk about him when out door-knocking, Hackbarth said.
Hackbarth expects the Republican ticket to have overwhelming support in his district.
Should Bills lose to Klobuchar — polls show Klobuchar with a big lead — it might not be the end of the road for Bills, Hackbarth suggested.
“I think Kurt would be a good candidate to go after (Democratic U.S. Sen. Al) Franken if it doesn’t work out for him against Amy,” Hackbarth said.
“I think he’s learned a lot from this campaign,” he said.
Republicans would not fault Bills for losing, assuming that happens, Hackbarth explained.
“Oh, absolutely not,” he said.
“I think a lot of people like Kurt Bills,” said Hackbarth, saying some House Republican members encouraged Bills to step forward as a caucus leader.
“Maybe this is a kind of training ground for his next election — I hope so,” Hackbarth said.
Klobuchar’s campaign, meanwhile, issued a statement concerning Bills’ comments about the Budget Control Act.
“The senator’s goal is to negotiate how those cuts will be made over the next 10 years instead of having them made automatically. She believes that we should stay and negotiate as long as it takes to come up with a solution that is best for the economy,” the statement read, in part.