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Washington calls Barkley

ST. PAUL - "Senator" once appeared before Dean Barkley's name and he wants the title back.

To return to the U.S. Senate, where he was appointed to a brief term, the Independence Party's Barkley must persuade Minnesotans that nothing in Congress will change if they pick Republican Sen. Norm Coleman or Democrat Al Franken.

If people are fed up with Washington, Barkley contends, they should support him because he has served in the Senate, knows how to negotiate and is not afraid to offend entrenched interests.

"We know that if we stand together, there's nothing we can't do," Barkley said. "We can even change Congress. We could start putting our country ahead of our political parties."

Barkley is campaigning with a vow to address issues the political establishment ignores - the growing debt, deficit spending and Social Security reform.

Of course, Barkley is no stranger to long-shot candidacies, both successful and unsuccessful. He founded Minnesota's Reform Party in the early 1990s and failed in U.S. House and Senate bids. But he orchestrated one of Minnesota's biggest political jaw-droppers - Jesse Ventura's 1998 gubernatorial victory. Barkley's strategies didn't work in 2006, when he led musician Kinky Friedman's failed Texas governor bid.

Barkley was working in the Ventura administration when Ventura appointed him in late 2002 to finish the term of Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in an airplane crash. Barkley acknowledges his two-month stint was short, but he stresses the deal-making ability he had as an independent. He helped pass the Homeland Security Act in exchange for a Minnesota welfare provision.

Barkley's message is intriguing, but it's not clear his ideas could get congressional support, said Michelle Vigen, a Democrat who was among about two dozen people who listened to Barkley at a recent University of Minnesota forum.

Vigen, a 24-year-old Moorhead native, said she is undecided in the Senate race and that Barkley and other Independence Party candidates force her to "think outside the box."

But, she added, "it's hard to imagine him being effective."

Barkley trails Coleman and Franken in independent polls, but said "all bets are off" if he climbs in the polls heading into the campaign's final weeks.

"Hopefully, I will surprise everybody," he said.

Dean Barkley

Party: Independence

Age: 58

Home: Annandale

Occupation: Attorney

Political experience: Appointed to brief Senate term in late 2002; led Jesse Ventura's 1998 governor campaign and worked in the Ventura administration; candidate for U.S. House and Senate; founded Minnesota Reform Party, which later became the Independence Party.

Education: University of Minnesota

Family: Divorced; two grown children