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Is the Wellstone-Boschwitz seat forever tainted?

The tension and opportunity for one party to have a rightful claim to the late Paul Wellstone’s seat in the U.S. Senate has been building for six years.  For Democrats, it was a chance to win back the seat that many thought was stolen from them in the tragic plane crash and resulting chaos during the 2002 election.  For the GOP and Norm Coleman, it was an opportunity for him to prove that he could win the seat without the controversy that surrounded the fallout of the Wellstone memorial.

But this isn’t the first time that one party has tried to “take back” this seat after controversy: Remember that it wasn’t until Wellstone trounced former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz in the 1996 rematch that the GOP recognized that Wellstone was a legitimate political force.

Now it appears that this Senate seat will continue to be tainted.

The recount that begins today may offer the finality that voters and activists are seeking.  But if the ultimate result flips the election to Democrat Al Franken (even legitimately) or if the contest is tied up in court for weeks, odds are that the winner will not be able to escape controversy that has dogged that seat for the past four elections.

All of this would have made Wellstone sick.  A valiant political fighter, Wellstone no doubt would have fought for every last vote, but he would have been graceful in defeat if he ultimately lost. It is unlikely Franken or Coleman will emerge with any grace at this point.

The campaign wasn’t graceful – and the accusations, attacks and hyperbole during the recount are even more embarrassing. The public has no interest in the traded barbs. Voters want a legitimate recount conducted in an honorable and legally required manner.

Considering this was a great year to be a Democrat and Barack Obama won Minnesota by a comfortable margin, DFL activists have begun to question Franken’s performance – and will continue to do so for years to come. At an informal DFL breakfast the weekend after the election, activists were blaming Franken for the fact that the race was even close.  In their minds, Coleman would have lost by a large margin to any other DFL candidate. True or not, it means Franken may not be endeared as Amy Klobuchar is by the DFL or as Rod Grams was by the GOP.

The public is unlikely to feel good about whichever candidate emerges victorious.  For the D.C. interests, the winner will likely be the target of constant scrutiny and future ad campaigns.

For the GOP and Coleman (if he wins), the challenge will not end: Democrats will continue to cast a shadow over Coleman until all outstanding ethics issues are resolved.

Meanwhile, if Coleman loses, having Gov. Tim Pawlenty as the only statewide elected Republican would signal potential trouble in 2010 for the GOP and dishearten state party activists.

The current recount scenario may seem “un-Minnesotan.” But it represents confirmation that professional and full-time D.C.-style politics has made a permanent impression on the Minnesota landscape.  In the past, Minnesota’s expensive campaigns with lots of spending by outside groups have had a certain amount of class and, most importantly, a clear result.

This time the only thing we got was a high-dollar campaign. Not much class or a clear result.

And the party that loses will be back in six years to make a “rightful” claim on this seat.  Uff-da.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/19/2008 - 12:04 pm.

    “At an informal DFL breakfast the weekend after the election, activists were blaming Franken for the fact that the race was even close.”

    Why would they blame Franken? Seems to me they should blame themselves for endorsing Franken & supporting him in the primary. After Klobuchar’s resounding victory in 2006, the DFL should have realized they needed a quality candidate; instead they let themselves be intimidated by Coleman’s fundraising abilities & pursued big-money candidates. Even if Franken squeaks by in this race, they ought to think long & hard about what they stand for by the time the seat is next contested, in 2014.

  2. Submitted by Joel Rosenberg on 11/19/2008 - 01:20 pm.

    Brian Simon is right. Like Franken or not, he performed as advertised, both in the way he raised megabucks from outside the state, and the way he campaigned inside. In him, the DFL got what they voted for.

  3. Submitted by David Mindeman on 11/19/2008 - 08:25 pm.

    I’d like to know what all of you are smoking. First of all, this was a 3 way race, not a two way. Before we canonize Amy Klobuchar, remember she was running against a bumbling idiot and she WAS a big money candidate. Secondly, Democrats better look at themselves if Coleman holds this seat. Franken was the only candidate who could have competed with a candidate who raised more money than any Republican in the country. God, I love JNP, but he would have been toast. They, the GOP, were already trotting out his religious writings at the time of the endorsing convention and without money, Coleman would have defined Jack as a religious nutball. Ciresi… has never won anything, ever. Imagine the commercials about a trial lawyer worth millions who never held elected office. And since Ciresi was never willing to put in his own money, he, too, would have been cut to ribbons. And yet, when Franken weathered the relentless Repub attacks, it was the Democrats (Faris and McCollum) who legitimized the idiot ramblings of Ron Carey and Brodkorb’s blog. Franken’s campaign, (post-convention), did all the right things…. if he hadn’t had to fight on 3 fronts (IP, GOP, and DFL) he could have easily won this election. And, by God, he still could win with this recount. I’m tired of the relentless Democratic whining in this state…fight for your candidate through endorsements and primaries, but when it is decision time, support your party’a nominee or shut the hell up.

  4. Submitted by Jon Larson on 11/20/2008 - 01:08 am.

    Mindeman–what have YOU have been smoking. Coleman, the nutso Zionist would have NOT been able to define JNP as a “religious nutball.” JNP would have been quite able to defend his religious writings. As for Ciresi, how exactly do you “cut to ribbons” one of the top trial lawyers in the land?

    Franken raised a LOT of money so he could run a bunch of TV ads but except for his initial ad with his elementary school teacher, they were SO bad they were worse than waste of money. Franken got over 365,000 votes less than Obama. That is nearly the population of Minneapolis.

    Franken was a terrible candidate. Considering Franken’s MANY negatives–inexperience, carpetbagger, dismissive of DFL history, arrogance, poor public speaking, history of backing the invasion of Iraq, etc. etc., it is damn miracle he got as many votes as he did. Minnesota voters weren’t going to elect someone with no visible skills besides criticism.  Worse, Franken committed the ultimate sin–he embarrassed folks who hate being embarrassed more than they hate Norm Coleman.

    365,000 voters could vote for a black freshman Senator for president but could not vote for Franken. Deal with that fact!

  5. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 11/20/2008 - 08:56 am.

    David M is exactly right- to write an article discussing how Franken underperformed relative to Obama’s performance, without a single mention of the third party candidacy of Dean Barkley, is rather strange. Barkley did get over 400,000 votes- and without him in the race we would in all likelihood not be having a recount, as they would almost certainly not break exactly 50/50. I suspect, but obviously can’t prove, that Barkley drew away more from Franken than from Coleman- and kudos to his campaign, he was refreshing and candid. But the point is, any discussion that talks only of how Franken underperformed in this race, without mentioning the third party candidate, is intellectually dishonest.

  6. Submitted by David Mindeman on 11/20/2008 - 09:46 am.

    I know the opinion lines about Franken hardened a long time ago, so I don’t expect to change any minds, but just a couple of points. Mr. Drekonja has articulately made the main point — third party votes. However, there is one other thing which needs to be said. I was at the Dakota County recount yesterday and it was striking to watch as they counted ballots, the number of voters who made one solitary mark on their ballot for Obama. No votes anywhere else. Not Senate, not Congress, not legislative. Nothing else. This was an Obama phenomenon, pure and simple. People were moved to support Obama, the man… not Obama, the Democrat. That was the main reason that Madia, Tinklenburg, and Franken could not overcome the third party drain on votes. And in the big scheme of things, there is not necessarily anything wrong with that or that can be done about it; it was just a fact about this particular election and another reason for the disparity between Obama votes and downticket.
    You can blame the loss on Franken if you want (if he actually loses), but Coleman wasn’t exactly popular with his own party either. Yet, the Republicans had the discipline to still vote to keep the seat. If Democrats had supported Franken just 1% more than they did, we would not be arguing about this at all.

  7. Submitted by Blois Olson on 11/20/2008 - 11:11 am.

    Please be clear, I didn’t write an article “how Franken underperformed relative to Obama’s performance”. My piece is about the taint that this particular seat has had because of close elections, horrible tragedy, and unforeseen events.

    I could write about that, and then Barkley would matter – the only mention Barkley may have deserved was that he once held the seat too.

    Again, reconfirming that this specific seat will continue to be a VERY hot potato no matter who wins the recount.

    Thanks for reading.


  8. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 11/27/2008 - 11:35 pm.

    One more aspect of this race was different from 2006. Klobuchar contested on open seat. Defeating an incumbent is much tougher. That fact alone, all other factors aside, meant this was going to be a tougher race than 2006. I think that’s a much better explanation for what happened this year than the weakness of the candidate. In fact, to come put even against an incumbent with a load of money requires a pretty good candidate.

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