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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. 

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.