BUFFALO (AP) -- It was no coincidence that Tim Penny inaugurated his orange campaign microbus last week with a trip to this pretty lakeside town.
More than being the seat of Wright County, Buffalo is also smack in the center of the Ventura Triangle -- the six rural-suburban counties whose residents gave the current governor more than 50 percent of their votes in that three-way race.
The question for Penny now, though, is whether Ventura's voters will be his for the asking. Winning in this populous, swing-voting region will be crucial in a race where less than a third of the statewide vote could be enough.
Penny, an informal adviser during Ventura's term, entered the race at Ventura's urging in June and immediately became a top contender against Democrat Roger Moe, Republican Tim Pawlenty and the Green Party's Ken Pentel.
But Penny and Ventura are as alike as rice cakes and Twinkies, and many who voted for Ventura say Penny starts from scratch in earning their votes.
Bernice Wetter, 85, president of the resident council at Park View Care Center in Buffalo, said though she voted for Ventura, his call to vote for Penny doesn't mean she will.
"That doesn't affect me one bit!" she said shortly after Penny delivered a speech at her nursing home that was rich in health policy details.
The same sentiment goes for Linn Hammerlund, an acquaintance of the Venturas through her horse-equipment businesses. She met Penny when he was campaigning in a library in Maple Plain, and said she likes what she heard. Still, "I think everybody has to prove themselves," she said. And besides, "It doesn't seem like (Ventura) is really yahooing for this guy."
In fact, Ventura has been trying to yahoo. He hints a Penny win would cement his legacy and has said that when Penny agreed to run, he finally felt he could leave office with a clear conscience. He has appeared at several events on behalf of Penny, but has muffled the pro-Penny talk on his weekly radio show after complaints from the other candidates.
If there's one place that represents the heart of the Ventura vote, it is the collection of hamlets and townships in far northern Anoka County that is represented in the state House of Representatives by Tom Hackbarth, a Republican. The area gave Ventura 57.5 percent of the vote, even more than Ventura earned in Brooklyn Park, which he'd served as mayor.
"I've been door-knocking and visiting with folks," said Hackbarth, who supports Pawlenty, "and I think Tim Penny is going to do real well in this district."
To draw the Ventura Triangle, begin in Hutchinson, where McLeod County gave Ventura 53 percent, extend a line across the northern Hennepin County Ventura strongholds of Corcoran, Maple Grove and Brooklyn Park toward a second corner at Taylors Falls on the Mississippi's edge, then head back northwest to a third point in Cambridge, where Isanti County voters also gave 53 percent.
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