"Call him goofy if you like. Say he's impulsive, petulant and inarticulate. But if you are going to give Rudy Perpich his due, you must also recognize that he is one of Minnesota's most effective governors," the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote last week in announcing its endorsement of the two-term Democratic governor.

Perpich, who is being challenged by former state commerce commissioner Mike Hatch, has been counting on voters to respond to his message that he has worked hard for Minnesota (he has been airing television ads declaring that he has made the state "a national leader") and to dismiss his reputation for unorthodox behavior (he reacted earlier this year to criticism of his family's lifestyle by threatening to sell the governor's mansion, returning his leased Lincoln Town Car and giving up his state patrol security -- inspiring Newsweek to dub him "Governor Goofy").

Perpich's intensive ad campaign, including pleas from his wife, Lola, and a heavy direct-mail and phone-bank effort over the last three weeks, paid off. Two independent polls released last week show Perpich leading Hatch, who is relying on the support of abortion-rights advocates, by 5 percentage points; another had him ahead 17 points. He had trailed Hatch in earlier polls.

On the Republican side, state Auditor Arne Carlson, a moderate on most issues, including abortion rights, led conservative and antiabortion rival Jon Grunseth by from 9 to 25 percentage points in last week's polls.

Carlson's strong showing represents an apparent failure by party leaders, including Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), to derail his campaign and rescue Grunseth, a St. Paul businessman who is the party's endorsed candidate.

In a last-ditch effort to turn the race around, Grunseth's campaign began airing ads "drawing a stark contrast" between the two candidates on abortion, crime and taxes. The ads, the first ones that have mentioned Carlson's name, present the front-runner as too liberal.