The Minnesota Senate Race:
Republican: Norm Coleman (incumbent)
Democrat: Al Franken
In the summer of 1992, I was an intern in the Office of Iowa's Senator Tom Harkin in Washington DC. Taped on the wall of one of the cubicles was a newspaper photograph of Senator Harkin walking out of a restaurant with his arm around Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. In the photo, the two are laughing like they don't have a care in the world, and underneath the picture Wellstone was quoted, "Tom is my best friend in the Senate."
Ten years later, my thoughts returned to that simple image of a happy time as the news broke that Paul Wellstone had died in a small plane crash, just eleven days before he would have been reelected to a third term in the Senate. The days that followed brought more sadness. Republicans capitalized on the confusion by spreading bald face lies that Democrats had turned Wellstone's memorial service into an angry political rally. Republican Norm Coleman, a former Mayor of St. Paul, won Wellstone's seat. The following spring, Coleman proceeded to gleefully stomp Paul's legacy of progressivism into the ground, telling reporters, "I am a 99% improvement over Paul Wellstone."
For the past four years, the Democratic Party has invested itself in grassroots organizing and a 50-state strategy. This strategy has been the cornerstone of Howard Dean's successful plan to win back Congress and build strength all over the country. It has also been a sharp contrast to the failed strategies offered by the Democratic Party between 1994 and 2004. That era was characterized by Democrats ignoring much of country and focusing on a limited number of "winnable" states and races, and by many Democrats trying to win by running as "Republican Lite."
Paul Wellstone never apologized for being liberal. He correctly identified the problems inherent in the Clinton-era blueprint of running to the right while ignoring the grassroots. Suffice to say that on that cold day in 2002, many liberals like myself lost one of our greatest heroes, and for six years we've been dreaming of taking down Mr. Norm Coleman.
Coleman faces television writer and radio personality Al Franken. Al is perhaps not the ideal candidate. He's right on the issues, he's passionate, and I know he'll work harder than anyone to win. However, he's also a man of limited charisma, and well, Al's just a little too weird for a lot of people. On the other hand, we are talking about the state that elected Jesse Ventura to the Governor's office, where he spent four years watching television and castigating the media.
Coleman and Franken have similar public approval ratings and approximately equal amounts of money to spend, and they are more or less tied in the polls.
The race will probably be decided by the outcome of the Presidential contest in Minnesota. The most recent poll in Minnesota shows Obama leading McCain by a whopping 18%. If Obama were really to win by this large of a margin, it would mean that even if Coleman received 100% support from McCain voters, he would also need the vote of one out of every six Obama supporters in order to win. If Obama can be convinced to spend a little time in Minnesota (and also to appear with good old Al Franken), we can win this one.
It's a mighty grim time for McCain. For a long while, McCain taunted Obama for failing to take a trip to Iraq. Now those jibes have backfired, as Obama is currently on a trip to the Middle East that is proving to be a bonanza of positive publicity for him. A great quote today on McCain's recent goading of Obama, "He couldn't have helped the Democrat more if he'd challenged him to a slam dunk contest." In other news, thanks to a recent tour by Obama of the northern plains states, Republicans can no longer rely on usually friendly territories like Montana and North Dakota. In 2004, Bush carried North Dakota by nearly a 2-t0-1 margin over Kerry. In 2008, seventeen thousand people turned out in Grand Forks, ND to hear BarackObama speak. I heard that this was the largest group of people to attend a political rally in North Dakota since the last visit to the state by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This November, we're going to remind America again of the FDR era by completely crushing the forces of reactionary Republicanism.