Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo
Despite the similarities between Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) campaign color palette and Hidden Valley Ranch, she did not pick it for that reason.
Klobuchar sarcastically quote tweeted a tweet on Monday about how her ranch-like green-and-blue campaign colors could be a “master plan” to win the Midwest and unite the country…
…but she actually picked green for her campaign as a tribute to one of her political mentors, Paul Wellstone.
Wellstone was a political science professor and U.S. Senator from Minnesota who ran in 1990 against Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R), an incumbent and prolific fundraiser. Without much money or name recognition, the Wellstone campaign had to get creative, including choosing a color that stood out.
And yes, Wellstone’s logo sometimes included an exclamation mark!
“It was distinctive because we were the only ones using green at the time,” Mark Anderson, Wellstone’s former press secretary, told Yello in an interview. “It was just different.”
Anderson said green was also symbol of environmentalism during a wave of family farm foreclosures.
Wellstone ran stunt-style ads meant to grab attention. In one, “fast-paced Paul” introduced himself by speeding through his biography to pack as much as he could into a single commercial because he didn’t have much money.
The Wellstone campaign’s “Fast-Paced Paul” ad
The campaign also purchased a bus that was spotted for sale in the front lawn of a home in the northwest suburbs of the Twin Cities, Anderson said. The bus had a back platform that had previously been used for snowmobile storage, and the campaign hoped to use it to emulate Harry Truman’s “Whistle Stop Tour,” where Truman spoke to voters from the back of a train.
Credit: Jim Mone/AP Photo
The bus was painted green, became a symbol of the campaign, and was used in ads, but it was a double-edged sword because it sometimes broke down, providing an unflattering visual metaphor, said Bill Hillsman, president of the Minneapolis agency Northwoods Advertising, who worked on Wellstone’s campaign. Still, the bus helped Wellstone set himself apart and cemented green as his campaign’s color.
The color worked especially well in the fall and winter.
“In terms of trying to build visual momentum … you really have to think about the seasons,” Hillsman said. “A green sign is great if there’s snow on the ground,” but “not so good in the summer when everything is green. It just doesn’t have the same pop factor.”
A visual tribute
Wellstone won his 1990 race in an upset and went on to champion issues like universal healthcare, campaign finance reform, and mental health, and write the book “The Conscience of a Liberal.” His first Senate vote was against the Gulf War in 1991, and he was the only Senator up for reelection who voted against the Iraq War in 2002. Wellstone was diagnosed with with multiple sclerosis in 2002 and died that year in a plane crash. His legacy and green logo live on in Minnesota today.
“You still see the bumper stickers and the signs every so often,” Hillsman said.
Hillsman said that Klobuchar’s visual tribute to Wellstone helps define her in her home state — “a simple way of tapping into a lot of support that’s already up here in Minnesota,” but he doesn’t know how well it plays in the rest of the country.
“In Minnesota, [Klobuchar is] seen as someone in sort of the Wellstone mold, maybe not as progressive, but further to the left then the centrist she’s trying to be now in the Democratic primary,” he said.
When Klobuchar references her green Wellstone homage on the campaign trail, she mentions how his supporters rallied around him.
“That last summer, he couldn't run anymore, he could hardly walk,” Klobuchar said at a rally in Nashua, N.H., on February 9. “And so he would stand on the back of this green bus with [his wife] Sheila, and he would just wave, and that's why we got a green bus.”
Klobuchar said that while Wellstone couldn't run at the time, “he had so many people in these green shirts running around them, that he had energized, that you didn't even notice he wasn't running himself.”
Credit: Hunter Schwarz/Yello
She said she hopes to have that same level of support.
“You don't have to run around the bus,” she said, “But what you have to do is call your friends and neighbors.”
As a tribute to Wellstone, Klobuchar’s campaign design tells a story about the Middle American progressive candidate she’s aimed to run as.
“I think Amy has a different politics than Paul had, but I think she's trying to do a similar thing,” Anderson, Wellstone’s former press secretary, said. “That idea of the little person running against all odds, that's a similar thing.”
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