A second slice of peppermint ice cream pie sits softening on one arm of the candidates puffy, oversize chair. Coleen Rowley, erstwhile FBI whistleblower, 2002 Time Person of the Year, grandmother, and Iraq war critic, also happens to be a dedicated triathlon competitor and, possibly as a consequence, possessed of the kind of appetite boomers of a certain socioeconomic stature rarely display in public these days. Shell get to the pie, a maraschino-tint-ed slab encased in a candy crust, but for now shes too worked up about the economics of being a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Minnesota in 2006.
Rowley, 51, is slender and muscular, animated and direct. She has clear blue eyes, shoulder-length hair, and favors multicolored sweaters, plaid skirts, and cloth hair bands. What she lacks in polish she makes up for in guilelessness. She has rejected suggestions from the political establishment that she snazz herself up or exploit previous fame. In her view, voters in Minnesotas 2nd District will either elect her to the House for who she is or else shell find something different to do.
Seen in a certain light, this position is one of righteous inflexibility, the very trait that made her a whistleblower in the first place: To expose, shortly after 9/11, the FBIs failure to notice signs of the terrorists plot, took a courage bordering on belligerence. In another light, though, her unassuming style reflects precisely the authenticity many voters are starving for.
Rowley is most energized and compelling when shes talking about national security. Butissues, as shes come to understand by this point in the electoral calendar, are something a candidate gets to after shes taken care of first things first, namely money. In 1990, the late senator Paul Wellstone ran a successful low-budget campaign from the same part of Minnesota. But lobbyists, strategists, and other political insiders have griped to newspapers and political journals that Rowley doesnt have enough money to be taken seriously.
Right from the start you hear, money, money, money, she says. There are just three kinds of viable Democratic candidates, shes been told: People with a history in politics, which translates into money; self-funded candidates
willing to spend their own fortunes winning office; and celebrities, who, in addition to money, have bankable name recognition. The few successful challengers for House seats in 2004 all raised seven-figure war chests. In that election, Republican John Klinethe man Rowley now seeks to unseatspent $1.6 million, besting an opponent who spent $1.2 million. Rowley calculates shell need $2 million and an army of volunteers. By years end, she had collected $170,000 for her bid to secure the Democrats endorsement at a party caucus on May 6; already by the end of September, Kline had raised $464,000.