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Keillor strikes chord with Woodbury-area Democrats

Garrison Keillor, an author, humorist and radio show host, belts out a tune Monday, July 16, for Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party supporters during a Senate District 53 rally in Lake Elmo. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker

Garrison Keillor used his familiar Minnesota voice as a rallying cry Monday, July 16, for local Democrats.

The host of "A Prairie Home Companion" leaned hard on his Minnesota roots as he urged activists from Senate District 53 to help defeat Republican opponents in the fall.

Keillor, who led a parade of high-profile Democrats - including Jim Klobuchar, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk and State Auditor Rebecca Otto - kicked off his speech at the District 53 "DFL Unity Picnic" by describing the route he enjoys taking when descending into the Twin Cities on airplane flights.

The 69-year-old listed off city after city in a narrative he used to describe the comfort he said he feels in the familiarity of Twin Cities locales that he has come to know over the years.

The story soon became a parable spun around the current election cycle.

The current brand of Republicanism, Keillor said, reminds him of making the flight approach from an unfamiliar direction.

"I don't recognize what's going on politically," he told the crowd of about 275.

Keillor and others at the Democratic fundraising event took sharp aim at the Republican Party, which controls both houses of the Minnesota Legislature. Speakers at the rally urged the party faithful to beat back GOP-backed constitutional amendments, including one that would limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.

In the past week, Keillor took a larger role in the marriage amendment debate. He agreed to record voicemail messages for people who donated money in opposition to the amendment.

"We just cannot let them do it," he told the crowd in Lake Elmo. "We just cannot."

Keillor's trademark humor - and penchant for song - also made regular appearances in the speech.

He opined how the marriage amendment would "do nothing" for other people's marriages, joking that marriage comes with its own challenges.

"To lie cheek-to-jowl with your best-informed critic is not for the timid," he said to a roar of laughter.

He closed his remarks by leading a group sing-along comprised of seven songs.

Others at the rally struck a more serious tone.

Bakk, speaking in support of Senate District 53 candidate Susan Kent, said this fall's election represents a tipping point that could lead to Democratic control of the upper house for at least a decade.

He said Senate Democrats have targeted the Senate District 53 race, which pits Kent against incumbent freshman Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Woodbury.

"What a contrast," Bakk said of the two candidates.

Klobuchar, the father of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., billed himself as "the oldest living Democrat in the crowd." He delivered a fiery speech bent on defeating Republicans.

The middle class is under siege, he told the crowd, and Republicans "are trying to destroy it."

"Please know that this is a turning point in America," he said.

Keillor also used his speech to take momentary aim at former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is rumored to be on a short list of potential running mates for presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Keillor called Pawlenty a "decent" and "smart" man, but said "he is not going to bring Minnesota into the Republican column."

The rally fell on the same night as a less-publicized fundraiser held at Joseph's in St. Paul. According to a tweet by Lillie, guests at that event - billed as a conversation with local business leaders - included former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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