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Fairgoers Tell Chastened Senator: ‘You Blew It’

September 3, 1990

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP) _ Robert Ostman spotted Sen. Dave Durenberger’s state fair booth right between the Cider and Nut Hut and a stand hawking inflatable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The 68-year-old man was ready to give the Minnesota Republican a piece of his mind. Ostman is one Minnesotan who says he voted for Durenberger before but won’t vote for him again.

″What were you thinking?″ queried Ostman, face to face with his senator. ″You thought you could get by with it. You had a good thing going and you blew it.″

Later, a teen-ager in braces brought Durenberger a different message. ″The only difference between you and the rest of them is that they didn’t get caught,″ he said.

″I hope you’ll be able to support me,″ Durenberger replied softly.

Durenberger had expected this ever since he was formally denounced on the floor of the Senate on July 25 for financial wrongdoing. The Senate found that he violated its rules by laundering speaking fees through a book contract and billing the government when he stayed in his Minneapolis condominium.

Some senators used the long August recess to relax on long vacations before the post-Labor Day crunch of congressional business.

But Durenberger, whose support in public opinion polls has plunged, faces a long period of political rehabilitation. Before heading to Saudi Arabia with a congressional delegation Friday, he attended much of the two-week Minnesota State Fair to take what came from the 1.5 million who visit it each year.

In some of them, he found support. A knot of well-wishers stayed around Durenberger, who posed with fair-goers for an aide’s Polaroid camera and listened patiently to constituents.

″Stay in there; we’re behind you 100 percent,″ said an elderly woman who identified herself as Matilda.

Durenberger had braced himself for the worst. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party booth down the street was passing out buttons that read: ″I Paid More Rent Than Dave Durenberger,″ a reference to his condo deal.

Minnesotans are known for their congenial manner, a collective personality trait known as ″Minnesota Nice.″ But some fair-goers let Durenberger know they were disappointed in him or couldn’t understand how he got off so easy, as they saw it, for ″stealing″ from the government.

Earl Cromey, a retired railroad worker from Stillwater, demanded to know why Durenberger was still in office if former House Speaker Jim Wright was out.

″He quit on his own. He made the decision,″ Durenberger explained.

Durenberger insists that he was acting in good faith when he pursued the schemes that resulted in the Senate’s disciplinary action. Durenberger was first elected to the Senate in 1978 and his current term expires in 1994. He has not said whether he would run again.

″Somehow they think I stole $40,000 from the government,″ Durenberger said in an interview before heading to the fairgrounds.

″I can’t change people’s minds about what they think are the facts. I’ll just have to change their minds about how they view me as a senator,″ he said.

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