U.S. Senate candidate campaigns, then camps, in area

U.S. Senate candidate Bob Anderson gives his views during an interview in the Spring Valley Tribune office. SUBMITTED PHOTO

U.S. Senate candidate Bob Anderson tours Bluff Country Manufacturing in Preston. SUBMITTED PHOTO
By : 
Bluff Country Newspaper Group

Following a busy day Wednesday, July 25, that included a half dozen visits, including Bluff Country Manufacturing in Preston and a local newspaper office in Spring Valley, U.S. Senate candidate Bob Anderson headed to his temporary campaign headquarters — a tent in the campground at Whitewater State Park.

The next morning, he and his small but dedicated crew woke up to an itinerary of at least six more visits, from Chatfield to Caledonia, before pitching a tent at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park for the night.

Such is the life on the campaign trail for a self-proclaimed “outsider” running in the Aug. 14 primary election against the endorsed Republican candidate, state Sen. Karin Housley, who has the financial backing of the party and the undivided attention of the state’s major media.

Anderson is finding plenty of media attention in Greater Minnesota, though. For one thing, it is rare that candidates in statewide elections visit small cities across the state. Even more unusual is a major candidate spending nights at local state parks.

Anderson’s communications director, Kevin Murphy, joked that someone told them they put the “camp” back in campaign. He and campaign manager Rebecca Brannon have traveled with Anderson more than 11,000 miles across the state in the last month, camping in state parks throughout Minnesota.

The unusual grass roots campaign is more than a necessity to Anderson, who said it harkens back to the whistle-stop tours of the past. It is purposeful in that he is learning about the issues important to the residents of Minnesota.

Anderson, who comes from a manufacturing background as part of his family dental lab for 42 years, is discovering in southern Minnesota the unique concerns of farmers, who have experienced flooding near Windom where he visited earlier in the week, low prices and now tariffs that are taking away markets.

Anderson said he isn’t a fan of tariffs, but he supports President Donald Trump’s fight for fair and equitable trade, using tariffs as a position for negotiations. Still, he understands the anxieties of farmers.

“They want certainty on where the whole tariff process is going. They want to know the end game,” he said.

Anderson is seeking to be a voice for farmers and other people of Minnesota in the U.S. Senate, seeking the seat now held by Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, who was appointed to fill out the remaining three years of Al Franken’s term after he resigned at the end of last year. First he must win the primary to become the Republican candidate in the fall, something he admits isn’t an easy task.

Anderson is a new Republican as he was a member of the Independence Party until the emergence of Trump enticed him to switch. He said he is running for the Senate to help push through Trump’s agenda for the state and country.

Although he ran for Congress as a member of the Independence Party against Rep. Michele Bachmann in 2008 and 2010, he feels his business background and political outsider status will have some of the same appeal as Trump, who nearly carried the state in 2016.

Three promises highlight his campaign. He would impose a personal term limit of two terms maximum, something he said every candidate should do. He also vowed not to take a pension because he wants to go to Washington, D.C., to serve and he will not accept any health care insurance plan that is not available to his constituents.

Health care insurance is one issue that got him into politics. He suffered from clinical depression about 15 years ago and was able to get treatment through the insurance plan of his company.

“It changed my life,” he said.

However, he also realized that not everyone was able to get the necessary assistance because insurance plans weren’t required to treat mental health the same as physical health. When Sen. Paul Wellstone introduced the mental health parity act, Anderson was an enthusiastic supporter, even if he didn’t agree with many other Wellstone political positions since Anderson is more conservative.

He started a cable access show called Inside Mental Health Issues in order to raise awareness of the bill, which wasn’t approved by Congress until 2008, long after Wellstone died. He still hosts a cable access show in Hastings called Straight Talk and continues to advocate for mental health issues.

Anderson said there is an untapped society of people suffering from the stigma. He added that the farm community that is under so much stress is vulnerable as farmers may not address symptoms because they “feel they are strong and don’t want to talk about it.”

Health care insurance is still a prime issue he addresses — and not in the way most Republicans do. Like most Republicans, he sees the need for reform, but he advocates choices in the private and/or government sponsored plans.

He said that states, not the federal government, should decide how they handle health insurance. In Minnesota, he supports keeping MinnesotaCare and using it as a public option available to all full-time Minnesotans regardless of age, income or pre-existing conditions.

“We are all consumers of health insurance whether we like it or not,” he said.

Anderson panned the decision by Minnesota officials for a “reinsurance” plan that brought prices on premiums down in the individual market. He said that benefitted the insurance companies more than the state’s consumers.

Other Republicans have called him a “socialist” for those views, but he said his business experience has shown him the power of competition even if it comes from a public option.

His business experience has also shown him the value of the trades, something he said needs to be emphasized in the country’s education system. Not everyone is cut out for a four-year degree, he explained, and working-class careers are still the backbone of this country.

He said his satisfying career has changed to digital dentistry in recent years, but still revolves around producing a product — and students need to know that it can lead to other things. “I’m a trades guy and I can run for the U.S. Senate,” he said.

His business background has revealed the value of customer service, something he wants to continue in politics. He said his focus will be on the people of Minnesota, not gaining power or protecting his party.

In fact, he said he hopes the Democratic Party remains successful because it is important that people have choices. He also would like to see the Republican Party more “welcoming” because the party needs “a big tent.”

He’s never seen the country’s politics more polarized, he added, and feels that even the Minnesota caucus system is too restrictive, putting the endorsement process in the hands of so few people.

Brannon noted that just 1,100 people chose the endorsed candidate. Anderson added that few of them were farmers and other working people because they couldn’t take time away from their jobs.

He also feels shut out of the discussion on the issues because his opponent, a three-time state senator, refuses to debate him. As in the times when candidates campaigned on whistle-stop tours, they also participated in many debates on the issues.

He realizes his campaign is somewhat like David vs. Goliath, but he said he is finding support throughout the state when he meets people. Some of those interactions happen long after the scheduled appointments of the day when fellow campers wander over to the campfire in front of his tent at a Minnesota state park.