Nate Atkins is probably the first Republican candidate in Minnesota to base his campaign around an Internet meme.
When he filed his papers, he immediately became the talk of the State Capitol twitterati for listing his middle name as "Honey Badger," quotation marks included. It's a reference to a goofy YouTube video created around two years ago. A YouTube user going by "Randall" dubbed his own narration over a segment from a National Geographic nature program about the honey badger, an aggressive omnivore from Africa and Southwest Asia.
So far, the video has gained over 51 million views on YouTube, and seeped into the nooks and crannies of pop culture.
Atkins said he picked the "Honey Badger" nickname via a coworker because of what he said was his fearlessness and his tenacity. Atkins' campaign, running on a libertarian platform, has deployed the nickname liberally, promising an attack on lobbyists and corporate interests and on government officials who care too much about voters' private lives.
This is Atkins' second race against Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis)—he won close to 30 percent of the vote in the 2010 elections in a city where GOPers hardly break the 20-percent mark—but he almost didn't enter the race this time around, he said. With limited funding from a state Republican Party still trying to rebuild its finances, and remembering the difficulty he had in 2010 when he tried to get fellow GOPers to support anyone running against a DFL candidate in Minneapolis, it took some cajoling from a few friends to even get Atkins to register.
So far, Atkins said the 2012 race looks like a repeat of his 2010 experience—little money, little support from big statewide donors who are more concerned with socially conservative issues than with poking the DFL leadership in the eye.
"Part of me, in an odd way, doesn't want to be associated with them," Atkins joked. "This is Minneapolis, for crying out loud. We have to do things differently."
Atkins is part of a faction trying just that, by attempting to push social conservatives out of the state Republican Party in the name of Ron Paul and libertarianism. Campaigning on issues like legalizing marijuana, defeating the marriage amendment, ending wars, and tearing up the deal that gave the Minnesota Vikings money for a new stadium comes from a libertarian stance, Atkins argued that change was necessary to keep the party alive as its base ages and dies off.
The question, of course, is whether that message will resonate with Minneapolis voters. Atkins hopes it and his catchy, tongue-in-cheek slogan will. Still, with not a lot of money in the bank, Atkins put a brave face on his campaign.
"With limited funds, you've got to think creatively," he said. "It's kind of freeing, actually."