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Minn. Reformers Appear Conservative

April 8, 2000

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) _ Presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan offered a heavy dose of his isolationist platform Friday, telling Reform Party activists at their Minnesota founding convention that he would get the United States out of the United Nations and other international bodies.

If elected, Buchanan said, ``their new world order comes crashing down.″

He was preaching to the choir as the state’s new Reform Party appeared to be a more conservative edition of the old, with many of the 300 people who attended the convention backing Buchanan.

The Friday night gathering comes two months after the party lost its leader, Gov. Jesse Ventura and most of his followers. The remaining members gathered in Bloomington Friday in hopes of reinvigorating their party.

Buchanan, who made an afternoon appearance at a suburban Brooklyn Park elementary school, was the featured speaker and main attraction. His campaign staff was open about their goal: getting Buchanan supporters in high places in the state party.

``We will have a chance to put the structure in place that we need,″ said Tim Haley, Buchanan’s national political director. ``I should probably send a thank-you card to Jesse.″

``Clearly, Pat Buchanan is the attraction for many of us,″ said Josh Wilkening, of the Twin Cities suburb of Savage. Wilkening hopes to be one of 11 delegates chosen for the party’s national convention in Long Beach, Calif., in August.

But the Buchanan presence was a bit overwhelming for some.

``It’s obviously an uphill battle for us,″ said Bob Fulgency, of Edina, who was backing presidential candidate John Hagelin for the Reform Party endorsement. ``But it’s a free for all. Whoever can muster the support has to do it.″

It was Buchanan and his views on free trade and social issues, in part, that drove Ventura to leave the party in February. Most members of the state party followed suit in March, and they renamed themselves the Independence Party.

Organizers of Friday’s event hoped to attract at least 200 people. Before the old Reform Party dissolved, it had a membership of about 20,000, said Rick McCluhan, its former state chairman.

Cedric Scofield, a Midwest representative on the national party’s executive committee, believes the party will have a broader base. ``What we come from is more of a classic libertarian point of view that nowadays people call conservative,″ he said.

While Buchanan is the front-runner for the party’s nomination, no presidential candidate was being endorsed by the Minnesota gathering. Once the party is established, activists said, they will try to collect 2,000 signatures on a petition to get Buchanan on the ballot in November’s general election.

The party is starting over less than two years after Ventura put Minnesota’s chapter on the map by becoming the highest elected Reform Party official in the nation.

In fact, however, the state has long had a tenuous relationship with the national party.

Initially called the Independence Party, it grew out of _ but was not directly connected to _ Ross Perot’s first presidential campaign in 1992. The state party changed its name to the Reform Party of Minnesota in 1996, but the national organization provided no financial support for Ventura when he ran for governor in 1998 and beat two establishment candidates.